EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 20, 2014

Probe into pot company's actions urged

Letter asks state to investigate medical marijuana proposal

By Mike LaBella
mlabella@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — Former state senator James Jajuga says he worked as an adviser and consultant for a company that is looking to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.

Jajuga, a registered lobbyist who has earned thousands of dollars over the last few years working for various groups, may have blurred the lines between his two roles, according to one city official.

License Commission member Tim Coco, a former candidate for state Senate, said Jajuga appeared to have been acting as a lobbyist when he carried a letter into City Hall last fall asking for support of Healthy Pharms company’s application to the state to open a marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.

Coco has asked the state Attorney General’s Office to look into the letter, which was signed by City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia’s in support of Healthy Pharms company’s proposed medical marijuana dispensary, and also to look into possible lies in the company’s application to the state.

Jajuga, a Methuen city councilor and former head of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, is at the center of a debate involving a letter that Scatamacchia signed in November on behalf of Healthy Pharms. Scatamacchia was president of the City Council at the time he signed the letter.

Jajuga, who said he worked for the proposed dispensary operator Healthy Pharms Inc. as a paid consultant and adviser, but not a lobbyist, initially asked Mayor James Fiorentini to sign the letter, but the mayor refused. Instead, the mayor had his aide David Van Dam call Scatamacchia and ask him to come to the mayor’s office to sign the letter, which Scatamacchia agreed to do.

In a letter to Attorney General Martha Coakley dated Feb. 11, Coco asked the Attorney General’s Office to look into whether Healthy Pharms “lacked candor” or engaged in misrepresentations in its filing with the Department of Public Health. Coco also asked Coakley and Secretary of State William Galvin to make a determination as to whether paid lobbying activities on behalf of Healthy Pharms by Jajuga were properly disclosed.

Coco said he was acting in the capacity of a citizen and resident and not as a city official when he sent the letters to state officials.

“I am concerned about an inappropriate political process that may have been in play during the provisional licensing of a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill,” Coco stated in his letter.

Coco emphasized that he was neither challenging a particular location nor trying to hinder the creation of voter-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.

Yesterday, Coco said he was waiting for a response from Coakley’s office, as well as from the lobbyist division of the Secretary of State’s Office.

When contacted by The Eagle-Tribune, Coakley’s office confirmed the receipt of Coco’s letter, but indicated that as a matter of public policy, the office would neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

Jajuga is a registered lobbyist who is also a former top state police officer.

Valerio Romano, a lawyer for Healthy Pharms, said Jajuga has been advising the company on “the political landscape in Haverhill.”

“The citizens of Haverhill and ... Scatamacchia — through no fault of his own — are the victims of usual and customary local and State House politics,” Coco said.

“I’m pleased Councilor Scatamacchia has exposed to the light of day the kind of political shenanigans I have long fought,” Coco added. “Local senators — past and present — think political games and lack of transparency are acceptable and will be overlooked by voters.”

Healthy Pharms Inc. received a provisional license on Jan. 31 to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at 114 Hale St. The company stated in its 146-page application that it held meetings with four local officials to discuss the dispensary location and characterized the results of those meetings as generally supportive.

Coco noted in his letter that in Healthy Pharms’ application, the company refers to “support or non opposition” from some local officials who are now on record as denying what has been characterized as endorsements.

Coco stated in his letter that William Pillsbury, director of economic development and planning for the city, as well as Joseph Costanzo, administrator of the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, and Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, have publicly disputed having “held meetings” as claimed by Healthy Pharms in its application.

“In each of these instances, government officials indicated they may have had chance meetings with Jajuga, but were unaware of his critical role in the preparation of Healthy Pharms’ application,” Coco said in his letter.

“The result of these misleading claims provided Healthy Pharms with additional application points,” the letter continued. “Even if these points were not enough to have materially affected its application, the behavior calls into question the integrity of the applicant and the role of political lobbying.”

The letter, which stated the city does not oppose a dispensary in the city, scored Healthy Pharms points in a state evaluation process that was key to the company being granted a provisional license for a dispensary on Hale Street near the city’s downtown.

At last week’s City Council meeting, Scatamacchia said he was tricked into signing the letter, which he said he did not realize would be used to help Healthy Pharms win a provisional state license for a dispensary. The letter was signed by Scatamacchia on behalf of the full council, but other councilors said they knew nothing about it and did not agree with it.

Jajuga attended for last week’s three-hour council meeting, but he did not address the council.

Fiorentini recommended the council extend the city’s temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries to June.

Instead, the council voted unanimously to extend the temporary ban on dispensaries to Nov. 18. It also voted to send the zoning issue to its Administration and Finance Committee to hold a public hearing for input from the community on the best place for a dispensary in Haverhill.

After the meeting, Jajuga told a reporter that the letter he brought to Fiorentini’s office was written by Healthy Pharms’ attorney, but that the mayor re-wrote it and then had Scatamacchia sign it.

Council President John Michitson said an official at the state Public Health Department told him that, at the council’s request, the department would investigate allegations of misrepresentations by Healthy Pharms in its application. The council did not pursue that option last week, but Councilor William Macek said it may at a future meeting.

Councilors also did not pursue an invitation from Michitson to consider contacting the Attorney General’s Office about the company’s alleged misrepresentations and Jajuga’s actions on behalf of the company. Scatamacchia previously called for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.