AYER -- The state-approved medical marijuana dispensary in Ayer could be serving patients as soon as this summer, after the business gets the proper permits and inspections.
Central Ave. Compassionate Care Inc. was among the first 20 dispensaries to win approval, which will be subject to strict regulation from the Department of Public Health.
"We're looking forward to working with the Department of Public Health and also the town of Ayer," said Executive Director John Hillier of Shirley. "We're just grateful that the folks of Ayer are lending their support and encouragement. They've shown to be good, compassionate neighbors, so we're happy."
The dispensary, which must operate as a nonprofit by law, will need to go through an inspection process before receiving final registration.
Central Ave. will also have to go through the permitting and inspection process typical of any other town project, said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand.
"I anticipate as he moves forward now with the project, he'll be working with the Building Committee on his design and his plans," Pontbriand said.
The center will also need to have fire, electric and plumbing inspections, he said. The Board of Selectmen might also meet with Hillier to discuss how the center plans to give back to the community -- town benefits that could include money for educational programs about the use of marijuana.
"Our plan is to provide education to our patients so that they understand any potential risks that might exist there, but also to make grants available to local communities for abuse and prevention education programs," Hillier said.
The former laundry building at 31 Central Ave. will be transformed into a building with the same level of security as a bank, under constant surveillance from both the inside and outside. The nonprofit also plans to have a full-time security employee, and only patients with an appointment will be allowed inside.
"The building will look much like a doctor's office, with a reception area, and there will be nothing visible from the outside of the building that would indicate anything other than any other doctor's office," Hillier said. "There would only be limited samples available for view, but in a very discreet area not visible from the outside."
The medical marijuana ballot question passed in the state in 2012 with a two-thirds vote -- voting results that were closely mirrored in Ayer, Pontbriand said. At Town Meeting in June, voters also decided against holding a moratorium, which would have given the town a year to study zoning issues.
Throughout the process, Hillier was very open about what he wanted to do, Pontbriand said.
"He held about five or six open houses over at the location to explain what he wanted to do," Pontbriand said. "From my vantage point, there seems to be a lot of public support for what Mr. Hillier wants to do."
Ayer Police Chief William Murray said he does not have too many safety concerns about the new dispensary, especially given the stringent requirements from the state.
"The security of this facility that the DPH has in place is pretty strict, so I'm pretty happy about that," he said.
But police will be keeping an eye on things, and Murray said he will make sure his officers are well versed in the law.
Chairman Gary Luca said, "I think it's a good thing for the community," Luca said. "It's very well regulated by the state, and Ayer police really don't have a problem with this going forward. That helped part of our decision-making."