METHUEN — As city leaders and residents mull over a fall ballot question that would allow the cultivation, manufacture and sale of marijuana inside city limits, at least one local businessman is already making plans to open a facility here.
Andre Colon, chief executive officer of True House Cannabis, or THC, said Friday he has been in discussions with city councilors and other local officials regarding the creation of a 29,000-square-foot warehouse to grow and sell pot.
"We have a few places picked out that we are looking into," said Colon, 44, of 5 Independence Drive. "There are plenty of locations to set up."
He has also identified a location in Haverhill — 25 Bond St. — where he hopes to erect a 10,000-square-foot building where he would install a high-tech growing installation.
In Haverhill, such facilities are legal. Methuen, however, has shied away from opening marijuana businesses.
Colon said he is optimistic Methuen residents will approve a resolution that is being placed on the November ballot that would allow dispensaries, cultivation and manufacturing of marijuana in the city.
"I've been campaigning in the city for a year," Colon said. "From the information I have, it (the ballot question) is going to pass. I believe Methuen is a pretty progressive city."
He noted that a survey circulated around the city recently queried about 550 people and that some 95% of them supported legal marijuana sales.
Some people are worried that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to abuse of other, harder drugs, he said.
"I'm a substance abuse counselor and what makes it a 'gateway drug' is when you buy it on the street, where other drugs are sold, then it is a gateway," he said. "If it's in a retail setting like a liquor store or a grocery store, it's not a gateway drug."
City Councilor Joel Faretra, who sponsored the resolution to put the pot question on the ballot, said he spoke to Colon last summer and just learned of his plans recently when the businessman spoke at the council's May 17 meeting.
Faretra said there is "a lot of interest" from people in the community for allowing marijuana dispensaries and manufacturing because of the revenue it would bring in.
He noted that communities like Haverhill and Dracut are bringing in huge sums in licensing and impact fees.
In Haverhill, a recent controversy over impact fees demonstrated just how much money stands to be made.
Stem, a cannibas store at 124 Washington St., pays a 3% licensing fee and a 3% impact fee. Three percent of the company's earnings are about $356,000 a year, Faretra said, which could be used to pay salaries of city workers, among other expenses.
"There's a lot of interest, but there's a loud group of people against it," Faretra said. "The biggest thing I hear is, 'We voted it down in 2016, why vote on it again?' But peoples' views change."
In 2016, a question was put on every ballot in the state, asking residents in every community if they would support legalization of recreational marijuana. Communities where a majority of voters supported that question were then allowed to go ahead and write ordinances and make plans for the opening of such facilities.
In communities where the question was rejected, like Methuen, a moratorium remained in place until 2020.
In 2019, the city went through a lengthy process of creating an ordinance and zoning rules and restrictions, but there was enough opposition that the proposal was withdrawn by one of its authors, then-Council President James McCarty.
If the proposal is approved by the voters in November, the city's Economic and Community Development Department would take over.
"We'd follow the direction of city leadership if the ballot initiative passed," said Economic Development Director Bill Buckley. "We'd then have to write an ordinance as to how, where and when it's allowed. That's when our office would get involved."
He said the city fields at least one call a week from prospective marijuana sellers and growers, noting that interest is high in developing the business here, but even moreso in places where the statewide ballot initiative was approved. He said he spoke with Colon several months ago about his idea, which was still in its early stages.