Wonderland Cannabis Company, opening on 11 McCracken Road, held a public impact meeting on Thursday at the Millbury Public Library. Along with a slide deck and refreshments, the family behind the proposed retailer answered questions and provided some information on their plans for their space and for the community.
Wonderland Cannabis is owned by the St. Onge family of Grafton, with parents Karen and Michael; their children Eric and Olivia; and Eric's wife Jackie. The five tout "carefully crafted cannabis products" with a community focus, and hope to open their location in late 2023. Eric St. Onge, who serves as Chief Operating Officer and Co-Owner of Wonderland, envisions Wonderland to be more of a high-end cannabis retailer compared to the more retail-market orientation of area dispensaries.
Among the topics covered by their presentation as well as from questions from the approximately half-dozen attendees were security, access to the premises, and traffic impacts.
"Nobody is driving an hour anymore to shop at cannabis stores anymore," says Eric St. Onge, with the Wonderland team estimating around 240 dispensaries open across the Commonwealth.
"We compare it to a Dunkin Donuts," Blake Mensing, Wonderland legal counsel added, believing that "people are willing to drive 25-30 minutes for cannabis purchases."
Town Manager Sean Hendricks noted that marijuana sales in Millbury are limited to the 146 corridor per town zoning regulations. "By law and by right... if it's allowable under the zoning bylaws and... [Wonderland] meets the requirements," they can build.
Still, some were skeptical, with one resident from the area concerned about the additional traffic and noting that the area still feels the impacts of the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley. Eric St. Onge stressed that while they expect heavy traffic when they open, they do not anticipate major increases long-term based on other dispensary impacts in Massachusetts, citing proximity to Route 146.
"I honestly feel that the amount of traffic will not be noticeable... it's not going to be like Christmastime," he continued, noting that Wonderland projects "five-to-six cars an hour coming in and out." Still, Eric St. Onge and Hendricks both believe that the upcoming construction at the intersection between McCracken Road and Greenwood Street will alleviate some of the traffic concerns.
Thomas Frongillo, who owns several businesses near the proposed dispensary location, was concerned about the possibility of increased criminal activity in the area, citing the equipment at his store and the nearby scrapyard. Mensing cited studies and information that crime rates tend to decline with the entry of a dispensary, and that state law requires significant security measures, including 24/7 1080p camera surveillance and barcode tracking on all cannabis materials sold.
"Every square inch of the property needs to be under 24/7 surveillance," Mensing continued, noting only one instance of theft or violence at a Massachusetts dispensary since the legalization of marijuana in the state. "It's not a beacon for crime."
Wonderland's team also stressed their interest in upholding state law surrounding dispensaries, especially concerning those under 21 years of age. Mensing used the example of a police officer who is 20 years old; they would not have access to the building.
"A badge does not trump state law."
Each member of the ownership team highlighted their interest in giving back to the community beyond the host community agreements. A highlight of their pitch will be the sponsorship of annual "positive impact" scholarships and diversity program scholarships for Millbury students. The St. Onge family, with more than 40 years in Grafton, see themselves as part of the greater Millbury community.
"We want the same things you do," Eric St. Onge noted.
The next step for Wonderland is the first of what will likely be several Planning Board public hearings, with the first one scheduled on Monday at Town Hall. The owners are optimistic that the Planning Board will grant them the special permit, and that the community will embrace what the dispensary has to offer.
"I think you'll look back at this meeting," said Mensing, "and say 'wow, this wasn't the horror show I thought it would be.'"