EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 14, 2014

City attorney: Don't meet company leader

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — City Council has decided not to meet with the president of the organization that wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.

Council President John Michitson said he planned today to cancel the invitation to Nathan Averill of Healthy Pharms Inc., on advice from City Solicitor William Cox.

The council had invited Averill to attend its Tuesday meeting to provide details about the group’s proposal to open a dispensary on Hale Street near Lafayette Square. Councilors also wanted to question Averill about a series of controversies that have come up since the group received a provisional dispensary license Jan. 31 from the state Department of Public Health.

But Cox said he is concerned that councilors could prejudice themselves if they discuss or comment on the Hale Street proposal prior to the council’s formal consideration of a special permit for the dispensary, should the proposal get that far.

Basically, if any councilor shows a bias concerning the proposal, it could be used against the city later in a potential appeal if the applicant doesn’t like the council’s final decision, Cox said.

Under the process set up by the state Department of Public Health, a dispensary applicant must request and be granted a special permit from the council prior to opening.

Michitson said the city solicitor “is concerned that a councilor may be inadvertently disqualified from the possible special permit hearing needed for Healthy Pharms approval.”

Michitson said the council won’t be inviting Averill to its Administration and Finance Committee meeting on Thursday either. That meeting is to consider zoning that will control where a dispensary would be allowed in the city. Michitson said his decision not to invite Averill to the zoning meeting is also based on the city solicitor’s recommendation.

Massachusetts is preparing for dispensaries to open because two years ago voters approved use of marijuana for patients with a prescription from a doctor.

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.

Several controversies and problems have arisen regarding Healthy Pharms since the state granted the organization one of 20 provisional permits to open a dispensary in Massachusetts.

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 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.

Mayor James Fiorentini has also 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 has made extensive plans to convert the building into a dispensary.

Healthy Pharms is being advised by Diana and John Czarkowski, a husband-and-wife team that was forced in 2012 to close its Colorado marijuana dispensary because of violations that included improper storage of marijuana, growing more plants than allowed under its state license and improperly maintaining records.