EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 2, 2014

Public gets say in pot center locale

City sets March 20 hearing on site of medical marijuana dispensary

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — If you have an opinion about where the city should or shouldn’t allow a medical marijuana dispensary, the City Council will have a public meeting March 20 to hear it.

The council’s Administration and Finance Committee has scheduled the hearing for 7 p.m. at City Hall to consider a zoning measure that would specify where a dispensary would be allowed to open.

Haverhill has a temporary ban on the dispensaries until Nov. 18, while the city decides the best place for one.

On Jan. 31, a nonprofit organization called Healthy Pharms Inc. was awarded one of 20 provisional state licenses to grow, process and sell medical marijuana out of an old furniture building at 114 Hale St. The building is in an industrial area just outside Lafayette Square and north of downtown.

That proposal, which is contingent on the area being zoned for a dispensary, has hit several snags, however.

Concerns have arisen about dubious tactics and alleged misstatements made by the company in its application to the state for the Hale Street dispensary. Earlier this week, the council voted to ask the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the company’s Haverhill proposal and the state Public Health Department to reconsider its approval of Healthy Pharms’ provisional license.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the state should scrap all applications and provisional licenses and restart the process due to discrepancies in many applications and complaints from local elected officials throughout the state.

Regardless of the status of the Healthy Pharms proposal, the city must create a zone for a dispensary or risk the likelihood the state would allow a company with a license to open one anywhere it wants, officials said.

The dispensaries will eventually be set up because two years ago the state’s voters approved the use of medical marijuana by patients who receive a prescription from their doctor.

In Haverhill, officials have also looked at zoning for a dispensary in the Ward Hill Business Park in Bradford, near Merrimack Valley Hospital in the city’s Riverside section, and in more remote areas near the New Hampshire border.

Councilor Colin LePage, chairman of the Administration and Finance Committee, said public comments will be accepted at the March 20 meeting and that the council hopes to hear from Healthy Pharms at that meeting or prior to it.

LePage said councilors want more details about Healthy Pharms’ plan for Hale Street before deciding the zoning issue.

“A lot of the state applications for dispensaries had a lot more specificity, including drawing and sketches and information about parking that aren’t in the Healthy Pharms application,” LePage said. “It would behoove them to come and talk to us and answer our questions.”

LePage said the council is likely to consider other parts of the city as possible locations for a dispensary.

Councilor William Macek said he favors allowing various components of a dispensary operation in different areas of the city.

Macek said, for instance, that medical marijuana could be grown and processed at the Hale Street location and then sold in another part of the city. He and other councilors have said they have strong reservations about allowing a retail dispensary on Hale Street, which is a busy part of the inner city near homes.

According to Healthy Pharms’ state application for a dispensary on Hale Street, the company expects to have 2,624 patients in its first year and 4,755 patients by its third year. Those numbers translate to 62,494 patient visits in year one and 184,012 patient visits in year three, according to the company’s estimates.

The company pegs projected annual revenue from a Hale Street dispensary at $4.2 million in the first year and then growing to $10.7 million in the third year. Expected expenses are estimated at $3.9 million in year one and $9.7 million in year three.

Prior to Hale Street, a committee formed by Mayor James Fiorentini considered the Ward Hill Business Park in Bradford as the best location for a medical marijuana dispensary. But city officials changed the proposed location from Ward Hill to Hale Street just prior to a November council meeting to consider the zoning.

The change happened right after a group of Ward Hill residents presented a petition to the council against the location signed by more than 100 people, and revelations that another nonprofit group was eyeing a prominent industrial building in the park for a dispensary. City officials said they wanted to see the building used by a more traditional manufacturing company.

Fiorentini said members of his Marijuana Study Commission have recently voiced new concerns about the Hale Street location. The mayor said he was unsure if the members still supported that location and that he intended to poll them this week. The zoning committee includes police Chief Alan DeNaro and Economic Development Director William Pillsbury among others.

“I have spoken informally with members of the committee who have expressed concerns with the number of people who might use a dispensary and whether Hale Street would be the best place for that amount of traffic,” Fiorentini said. “I know that councilors too have concerns about that proposed zone. I hope that we can work with the council to come up with an appropriate location that can handle the traffic that is expected should a facility locate here.”

Healthy Pharms estimates:

2,624 patients to use the dispensary in the first year, for a total of 62,494 visits

4,755 patients by the third year, or 184,012 total visits