EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 7, 2014

Council to question pot center president

Averill to answer queries about Haverhill proposal

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — It’s hard to imagine things going much worse for Healthy Pharms since it received a provisional license Jan. 31 from the state to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Hale Street.

First, City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said he was tricked into signing a letter on behalf of the organization that it used to win the license. Then several city and regional officials said statements that were attributed to them in Healthy Pharms’ dispensary application were false.

A few weeks later the council disavowed Scatamacchia’s letter and asked the Attorney General’ Office and the state Public Health Department to investigate the organization’s tactics and the alleged misstatements and misrepresentations in its dispensary application.

More recently, Mayor James Fiorentini said his committee that recommended the Hale Street industrial area as the best place in the city for a dispensary was having second thoughts about that location. Healthy Pharms has an option to buy an old furniture building at 114 Hale St. and had made extensive plans to convert the building into a center to grow, process and sell medical marijuana in a retail setting.

And now, earlier this week, it was reported that Healthy Pharms’ is being advised by a Diana and John Czarkowski, a husband-and-wife team that was forced in 2012 to close their Colorado marijuana dispensary because of violations. The violations include improper storage of marijuana, growing more plants than allowed under its state license and improperly maintaining records.

The Czarkowskis also appear to be involved with as many as seven Massachusetts’ dispensary proposals — an apparent violation of state regulations that forbid any one person or company from being involved in the management of more than three proposed operations.

Massachusetts is preparing for dispensaries to open because two years ago voters approved use of medical marijuana. Haverhill cannot stop a medical marijuana dispensary from opening in the city, but officials can adopt zoning to limit where one would be allowed.

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

City councilors, who have final say over where a dispensary zoning, have voiced strong concerns about Healthy Pharms. Some councilors have publicly suggested the company is not right for Haverhill given the various controversies that have already erupted involving the organization.

Councilors have also complained they have not heard directly from the organization’s representatives or received specific information about its Haverhill proposal.

That’s about to change.

Nathan Averill, the organization’s president, has accepted the council’s invitation to attend its March 18 meeting and answer questions from councilors.

“I really want to hear what their proposal is and I want them to address various concerns so we can ask them questions directly,” Council President John Michitson said. “There are also other possible misrepresentations in the applications we’d like to discuss with them.”

Phone messages and emails for Averill and the organization’s lawyer, Valerio Romano, have not been returned.

The council’s meeting with Averill is one day before a previously scheduled March 19 meeting of the council’s Administration and Finance Committee to consider a zoning measure that would specify where a medical marijuana dispensary would be allowed to open. Both meetings are at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Councilor William Macek said the council needs more information from Healthy Pharms before it can make an informed decision about the organization’s proposal and where the city should allow a dispensary.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface in regards to the local requirements and regulations we need to enact prior to granting any local special permit, which will be required, for any medical marijuana facility in the city,” Macek said. “Other communities have already completed that type of local regulations, and we need to do ours.”

Under the process set up by the state, once the council decides on a dispensary zone, an applicant must then submit a request to the council for a special permit.

“Even if an area is zoned as appropriate, it is always up to the City Council whether to grant or not grant the special permit,” Fiorentini said. “No dispensary can locate here unless they receive a special permit from the council. Whatever zone is chosen, if an applicant makes an application for a special permit, the city should require a detailed traffic study to determine the impact on traffic in the neighborhood.”