AYER -- The Shirley businessman who wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Central Avenue thanked voters for rejecting a proposed moratorium and asked the Board of Selectmen Tuesday night for a letter of support.
"This is a cutting-edge thing in the state and the country as well," John Hillier said. "I'm asking for a letter from the board to put into my application to the state, to separate mine from some of the out-of-state people."
This was the third time Hillier has appeared before the board. Last month, he presented his plan during a public hearing called by the Planning Board and did the same at a selectmen's meeting. On June 24, voters overwhelmingly rejected a warrant article that would have placed a one-year moratorium on setting up a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
Hillier's is the first, and only, application in Ayer and under the new state law, up to five dispensaries will be allowed in each county.
The vote cleared the way for Hillier to move forward with his proposal. He must put $500,000 into an escrow account with the state and receive a number of state and local approvals before he would be allowed to open his business.
In November, Massachusetts voters approved a law that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries, with strict controls and state and local oversight. The rules and regulations were finalized at the end of May, and since then, communities across the state have passed moratoriums, one after another.
If Hillier's application is approved, Ayer could be the first, or one of the first, communities in the state to have a medical marijuana dispensary.
The issue has divided communities across the commonwealth. In Ayer, discussions about Hillier's application often veered off track, focusing on the merits or evils of marijuana, an illegal drug that has been decriminalized in recent years. Under state law, a community may delay permission but it may not ban the siting an operation of such businesses. The attorney general has said she expects the first dispensaries will be operating by the end of the year.
On Tuesday, Ayer Selectman Chairman Pauline Conley and Selectman Chris Hillman voted against directing the town administrator to draft a letter of support on Hillier's behalf.
"I will not support this without additional information," Conley said after a motion was made and seconded by selectmen Jannice Livingston, Gary Luca, and James Fay, to have a letter drafted.
Prior to the vote, selectmen Gary Luca asked the board to support Hillier's request for a letter.
"This board should support him rather than have someone come in from the outside and undercut him," Luca said. "Mr. Hillier should have the first shot."
Conley and Hillman said they hadn't had a chance to visit the Central Avenue office where Hillier wants to open Compassionate Care, Inc. Both said they needed more information before giving their support to Hillier's application to the state.
"I'd like to hear more," Hillman said.
At the next selectmen's meeting, the board will be asked to approve the letter of support it directed Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand to draft.
Hillier agreed to attend the meeting and also invited officials and the public to contact him with questions or to tour his offices on Central Avenue.
"My main reason for being here is to thank everybody," Hillier repeated after the selectmen's vote. "I appreciate the support and conversations on all sides. ... and I'm happy to make a presentation if that might be helpful."