shurfine citizens bank

This vacant storefront (recently a branch of Citizens Bank) in the Shurfine Plaza in Conway is the future home to a medical marijuana dispensary, according to Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)

CONWAY — A representative of a medical marijuana treatment center will be attending an upcoming Conway selectmen's meeting to discuss plans for opening a center in town, while one local resident strongly opposes it as he feels medical marijuana is a "hoax."

The meeting between selectmen and representatives from Sanctuary ATC (Alternative Treatment Center) and the state Department of Health and Human Services had been scheduled for today (Dec. 18), but Town Manager Tom Holmes said late Monday afternoon that it had been postponed until after the first of next year.

Conway selectmen meet at 4 p.m. at Conway Town Hall on most Tuesdays.

According to Holmes, an entity called Sanctuary ATC is seeking to open a medical marijuana facility in the old Citizens Bank location at 234 White Mountain Highway in the Shurfine Plaza in Conway.

Only four ATCs are allowed to operate in New Hampshire, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

The centers are Prime Alternative Treatment Centers of New Hampshire of Merrimack, Sanctuary ATC of Plymouth and Temescal Wellness Inc. of Dover and Lebanon.

However, according to SB 388, New Hampshire can allow these centers to have satellite dispensaries in locations approved by the state.

"Wouldn't you know Conway got one," said Holmes.

SB 388 was signed by Gov. Chris Sununu on May 30. Among the sponsors was Rep. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom). The reasoning behind the bill is predicated on the fact that the medical marijuana dispensaries are far-flung.

The bill reads in part:

"If the department determines that having additional locations for the dispensing of therapeutic cannabis is necessary to adequately and effectively meet the needs of qualifying patients and designated caregivers, the department may authorize one or more alternative treatment centers to establish a satellite dispensary," states SB 388. "No alternative treatment center shall be authorized to establish more than one satellite dispensary.

"Satellite dispensaries shall only be established in geographic locations approved by the department, shall be limited solely to the dispensing of cannabis and educational efforts, and shall not be used for cultivation or other activities relative to the production of cannabis. Such satellite dispensaries shall be subject to rules adopted by the department."

An email from Sanctuary ATC President Jason Sidman to Holmes explains that Sanctuary is one of four "alternative treatment centers" operating in the state.

Sanctuary ATC was the fourth item on the selectmen's agenda.

The purpose of the meeting was for Sanctuary ATC to introduce itself to the Conway selectmen.

The use of the building isn't changing much legally because both the former and present uses are considered retail, said Holmes.

Part of the process of opening the location will involve public information meeting, and Holmes said he suggested that take place at the Conway Public Library.

Sanctuary ATC describes itself this way on its website:

"Sanctuary Alternative Treatment Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing the highest quality medicine, service, education and experience to qualified New Hampshire Therapeutic Cannabis patients," says sanctuaryatc.org.

"We are a compassionate group of N.H. citizens who believe that this goal can only be accomplished through a caring, trusting and knowledgeable approach focused on a patient’s specific medical condition and financial availability. ... a true sanctuary, free from harm, judgment and prejudice."

According to Sanctuary ATC, medical marijuana can treat a variety of illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sidman and Michael Holt of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Service were to attend today's meeting, according to emails provided by Holmes.

Data from the DHHS therapeutic cannabis program indicate there were 148 qualifying patients in Conway as of June 30.

In all of Carroll County, there were 449.

According to a report from NH DHHS, placing an office in North Conway has "the potential to deliver the greatest total savings to patients living in Region 4, by reducing the time traveled and miles driven to access their designated ATC."

Region 4 is defined as Carroll, Coos and Grafton Counties. Most people in Region 4 have Sanctuary as their designated ATC.

Conway resident Steven Steiner, who has been an anti-drug activist since he lost his son, Steven Jr. to a drug overdose in 2001, said Monday he strongly opposes Sanctuary ATC and hopes other residents will, too.

"If you don't want a pot shop in this town, you need to be at that selectmen's meeting or our quality of life in this town is going to be further driven into the ground," said Steiner via telephone before the meeting was postponed.

Steiner said that under federal law marijuana is still illegal and that crude marijuana isn't a medicine that's FDA approved.

"It's all a hoax and an effort to normalize marijuana use across our country," said Steiner, who accused billionaire investor George Soros of being involved in that effort. "We don't smoke our medicines." 

Steiner further stated that there's no need to put a "pot shop" in Conway because there are several similar businesses in nearby Fryeburg, Maine, that offer medical marijuana.

"If someone with so-called medical marijuana hoax issues needs that stuff, they can drive over to Fryeburg and get what they need to get," said Steiner.

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