By Douglas Moser and Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Several public officials are questioning statements made by a company that received a license for a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.
In its application to the state, Healthy Pharms, Inc. named the officials, said it met with some of them, and described their positive reaction to the company’s proposal.
However, on Friday two officials named in the application said they did not meet with Healthy Pharms representatives.
Another official named in the application said he was surprised that an informal conversation about the dispensary was described in the application as supportive of the plan.
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 officials to discuss the dispensary location and characterized the results of those meetings as generally supportive.
“William Pillsbury Jr., director of the City of Haverhill Economic Development and Planning was happy to meet with HPI representatives on several occasions,” Healthy Pharms wrote in its application. “HPI discussed the possible development on an RMD within the Haverhill city limits and the best possible locations for these activities.’’
However, Pillsbury said on Friday that he never met with Healthy Pharms.
“That’s absolutely untrue, unless it’s a passing conversation I had with Jim Jajuga,” Pillsbury said. “I haven’t had a meeting with them. I see that as a misrepresentation.”
Jajuga is a current Methuen city councilor. He has also been a state senator, high-ranking state police officer, state secretary of public safety and president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. He told The Eagle-Tribune last week that he did consulting work on behalf of Healthy Pharms.
Pillsbury said the only conversation he had with Jajuga was a brief talk at the counter in Pillsbury’s City Hall office about having a meeting concerning the Healthy Pharms proposal.
“It was an informal situation when he was at my counter and wanted a meeting,” Pillsbury said. “I said there isn’t a meeting to have because there’s a moratorium (on possible locations for such a center in Haverhill).”
“If my conversation with Jajuga has been conveyed into that, it’s pretty troubling,” Pillsbury said of the statement in the Healthy Pharms application.
The City Council has enacted a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in Haverhill while it works out zoning issues. The moratorium expires Feb. 25, unless the council acts to renew it. The council plans to take up dispensary zoning and the moratorium at a meeting Tuesday.
Jajuga, who owns the consulting agency Jajuga Associates, said he was a consultant and adviser for Healthy Pharms. However, he declined to comment on the statements of Pillsbury and other public officials who questioned Healthy Pharms’ application to the state.
“When I do some work for a client, I really don’t discuss that work,” Jajuga said Friday.
Asked about the officials’ response to the language in the Healthy Pharms application, Valerio Romano, an attorney representing the company, declined to comment Friday.
The dispensary issue has developed because last year voters supported legalizing medical marijuana use in Massachusetts.
Healthy Pharms’ application also stated it met with Joseph Costanzo, administrator for the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority.
“Joseph J. Costanzo, administrator of Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority, met with (us) to help us understand the to-be-built bus station hub, within three blocks of our proposed site, which will feed and provide transportation for 14 surrounding communities,” Healthy Pharms wrote in its application.
Costanzo said Friday that he never met with anyone from Healthy Pharms, but was contacted by a representative of the company, whom he declined to name. They had a discussion over the phone about the proposal for a medical marijuana dispensary on Hale Street near Lafayette Square, Costanzo said.
Costanzo said the proposed bus station is a reference to the transit authority’s existing plans to eventually relocate its downtown Washington Square station closer to the downtown parking garage in Railroad Square. That location is within walking distance of the proposed Hale Street medical marijuana facility.
The application also stated that Healthy Pharms representatives met with Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, about the proposal.
“We were able to meet with Executive Director Dennis DiZoglio of the Merrimack Valley Planning and Commission to discuss our plans and found him open to our proposal, and he invited his assistance wherever possible,” Healthy Pharms stated in the application.
“I am surprised,” DiZoglio said Friday. “I’m trying to think of who I talked with who would have mentioned me. No one came to us. We don’t have anything to do with the permitting side of it.”
He said of the people involved with Healthy Pharms, Jajuga, a friend of his, would have been the most likely to have a conversation with him, though he could not recall a specific conversation or meeting.
The regional planning commission did host a presentation last August with several city and town planners in the area about medical marijuana dispensaries and has provided technical assistance with the zoning and bylaw aspects of medical marijuana, DiZoglio said.
“We didn’t take any votes to endorse a specific proposal,” DiZoglio said. “We were a resource to our member communities about medical marijuana to give them some assistance.”
The Healthy Pharms application cited a fourth conversation, this one with Sven Amirian, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. The application cited the chamber’s general neutrality on medical marijuana dispensaries.
“HPI representatives had an informal meeting with Sven Amirian, President of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, on the feasibility and local acceptance of an RMD facility within the Haverhill city limits,” Healthy Pharms wrote in its application. “The outcome of this meeting was that the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce is supporting any and all legally sanctioned businesses.”
Amirian said Friday that he recalled speaking with Jajuga briefly about the dispensary as part of a longer conversation on a range of topics. “Taken in context with the rest of the conversation, this appears to be a fair characterization of my brief discussion with Jim,” Amirian said of the language in Healthy Pharms’ application.
The state used a scoring system when it reviewed applications for dispensaries. Because Healthy Pharms’ application said the company got support from officials such as Pillsbury, Costanzo and DiZoglio, along with an undated letter of non-opposition on city letterhead signed by former Haverhill City Council President Robert Scatamacchia, the company got up to 15 points on its overall score. That includes five points for support from community leaders and Scatamacchia’s letter, five points for including Scatamacchia’s letter in the application, and five points for including Scatamacchia’s indication of non-opposition in a chart. The highest possible score was 163 points, and Healthy Pharms got 149, according to the state.
The lowest scoring successful application received 137 points.
Scatamacchia told The Eagle-Tribune last week that he was “duped” into signing the letter in late November. The letter was not shared with other city councilors until last Tuesday. The full council never considered or voted on the letter.
The letter reads, in part, “I am writing in reference to Healthy Pharms, Inc. The City of Haverhill is neither in favor or opposed to the siting of a marijuana dispensary in the City of Haverhill.’’ It was written on city letterhead that included a list of the entire City Council and signed by Scatamacchia alone.
According to the state Department of Public Health, a letter of support or non-opposition can come from a community’s chief administrative officer, its City Council or Board of Selectmen, and/or the local Board of Health.
Current City Council President John Michitson said as a result of recent developments and Scatamacchia’s comments in a story in Friday’s Eagle-Tribune, the council was moving up its consideration of the medical marijuana dispensary zone from Feb. 25 to this Tuesday’s meeting.
“Everything about this issue will be on the table this Tuesday and we will see what the other councilors want to do,” Michitson said.
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