EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 18, 2013

Group fights medical pot plan

Neighbors organize to keep center away from their homes

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — About 100 residents have signed a petition opposing a zoning proposal that would allow a medical marijuana dispensary in the Ward Hill Business Park.

Other people living in and around the inner-city Acre neighborhood are organizing to oppose the same zoning measure, which would allow a medical marijuana dispensary in the Hale Street industrial area just outside Lafayette Square.

People from both groups plan to attend tonight’s City Council meeting to present their petitions and urge councilors to reject the zoning proposal. The meeting is at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

At least two applicants for medical marijuana facilities in the area are targeting Haverhill — the Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes Foundation based in Andover and Creative Botanical Development, according to state applications for dispensary licenses that are being made available in Essex County.

Earlier this year, state Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled communities cannot prohibit dispensaries from opening within their borders, but can regulate the specific locations where they are allowed.

In recent months, the Haverhill council has passed a series of moratoriums on marijuana centers, while officials develop a proposal that would limit them to specific areas of the city. The latest moratorium is set to expire today unless the council continues it.

The zoning measure, which requires six votes from the nine-member council to pass, was developed by planning officials and a committee formed by Mayor James Fiorentini. The city is obligated by law to find a place in Haverhill where a medical marijuana facility can apply for a permit, the mayor said.

“There is no place in the city where we could change the zoning to allow them that some neighbors aren’t going to object,” Fiorentini said.

If and when the zone is approved, proposals from specific companies would require a special permit from the council to go forward, the mayor said.

While the current zoning draft says no centers would be allowed within 1,500 feet of a school or home, the mayor has said he expects the buffer zone will be reduced to 500 feet. He said 1,500 feet would preclude most, if not all property in the Hale Street industrial area.

Elizabeth Rogers of 133 Neck Road, whose family owns Rogers Farm in Ward Hill and once owned most of the land that makes up the industrial park there, has filed a petition with signatures from about 100 residents who oppose allowing a medical marijuana facility in the park. She is set to present her petition to councilors tonight.

Meanwhile, people who live near Hale Street are also organizing their opposition to a medical marijuana facility in that part of the city.

Michael Schroth, 20 York St., has asked to be allowed to speak, along with several of his neighbors, against the proposal at tonight’s meeting.

Schroth, who has lived on York Street in the Acre for about a decade, said he has seen great improvements in the area, including cleaner streets and the planting of more trees. He said he has also seen many families move into homes in the area in recent years.

“We are concerned that locating a medical marijuana dispensary so close to our residential neighborhood will have adverse consequences,” Schroth told The Eagle-Tribune. “We are afraid the stigma that the Acre already has as a blighted area will be made worse with a marijuana dispensary. That the thought that this is an undesirable place to live will be even harder to dispel.”

Schroth said he is worried that some city officials might be “willing to sacrifice our inner city” because they don’t live there.

“I think in the end that we in the Acre are going to be sacrificed,” Schroth said. “The folks in Ward Hill do not want this. The mayor says that Riverside will squawk if it goes in near the hospital.”

The use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts was approved by 63 percent of voters last year. In Haverhill, 60 percent of voters supported the measure, which removed criminal and civil penalties for medical marijuana use for people with certain medical conditions.

The new law provides for 35 nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers throughout the state, with no more than five in each county. The centers may grow, process and provide marijuana to patients who have a prescription from a doctor.

The state Department of Public Health, which is reviewing applications and will issue certificates, announced Sept. 23 that 154 of the 181 initial applicants were invited to phase two. Eighteen applicants filed for locations in Essex County, and 16 of those were invited to phase two.

State health officials have said they will weigh a number of factors when deciding which applications to approve, including proximity to other dispensaries to avoid clustering.