Several big names in local politics are backing or assisting medical marijuana dispensary proposals across Essex County as the state health department prepares to issue licenses this week.
Names of the directors and executives of the non-profits created to apply for dispensary and growing licences from the state Department of Public Health, which plans to announce provisional licenses Thursday, in Essex County run the gambit from a former state representative, a former magistrate judge and prominent attorneys to doctors and medical researchers, musicians and web designers.
They include D’Arcangelo, Herlihy, McCarthy, Manzi, Torrisi and Vining.
Several involved with the proposals say they chose people with local expertise for advice in their specialty areas and to gain support in the communities where dispensaries are proposed.
“Every person on our board has been put on our board for a specific purpose, their expertise,” said Charles M. Saba, president of BeWell Organic Medicine, which currently is proposing a dispensary in Lawrence. “There is no one we put on a board because their political connections.”
BeWell’s board of directors includes Kevin Herlihy, the retired magistrate judge from Haverhill District Court, and Ronald D’Arcangelo, a former probation chief in Newburyport District Court.
Herlihy presided over one of the first drug courts in the state, and went to California in the 1990s to learn about the drug courts pioneered there, which divert nonviolent drug offenders from jail sentences into rehabilitation, education and job programs.
“Who better to advise us and direct us through process through legal process than him?” Saba said.
Attempts to reach Herlihy through his son, Andrew Herlihy, a community development official in Haverhill, were unsuccessful.
“The other thing they bring is their connection to city of Lawrence and the Merrimack Valley,” Saba said. “I have a 100-year family history of being connected with city of Lawrence. We wanted to be in Lawrence and the board needs to represent Lawrence.”
D’Arcangelo, who declined to comment and directed questions to Saba, also sits on several boards and non-profits in the area, Saba said. “His background in law enforcement was important for interacting with the security aspect, like risk mitigation, risk management and security training for our team. He is a good candidate for what we need,” said Saba.
Lawrence family practitioner Dr. Jean Tabit, wife of attorney and former candidate for state representative Salim Tabit, also sits on the board. Salim Tabit is currently has a law practice with former state Rep. Arthur Broadhurst.
BeWell is represented by Methuen attorney Vincent Manzi, cousin to former Methuen mayor and current Seabrook town manager William Manzi and a past law partner with former state Sen. Steven Baddour,of Methuen.
Broadhurst said he is not working for one of the applicantions, but does have a past client who is involved with one of the non-profits. He declined to specify whom.
In Ipswich, a non-profit called Ipswich Pharmaceutical Associates includes on its board of directors former state representative and registered lobbyist Peter McCarthy of Peabody.
McCarthy said Friday that having former state and local officials on a proposal can help with community support, a factor DPH considers when deciding which proposals with get licenses, and represents local ties in a new market that has generated significant out of state interest.
“These people know the community.” he said. “If you can’t muster up community support, then you don’t belong. There’s a lot of foreign companies coming in from outside of the state, and part of this puzzle is to retain the Massachusetts presence, and that’s what the boards are reflective of.”
Others on Ipswich Pharmaceutical’s board include Ipswich cafe owner Joseph F. McCarthy, with whom Peter McCarthy said he is not closely related. “Maybe somewhere down the line. Remember, though, in Ireland third cousins are as good as twins,” he said.
Alternative Therapies Group, which is proposing a facility in Salem, Mass., has on its board professional web designer Chris Edwards, North Andover nurse and health care coordinator Sherie Schuettner and Eric Ruby, a Taunton pediatrician, on its board.
Former state Rep. David Torrisi does consulting work for Alternative Therapies Group, according to state lobbying disclosure records.
Edwards said Alternative Therapies Group did not look for people with political connections.
“In our situation, bringing in David Torrisi as a consultant was to make introductions at the local level,” he said. “The timing of political events and the process has been helpful as well. But in our situation, he’s an outsourced consultant, not part of the board of directors.”
Healthy Pharms, Inc., which is proposing a dispensary in Haverhill, has Nathaniel Averill, an associate manager at pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb, as president, and his wife Joy Kolin, projects director with Management Sciences for Health of Cambridge, a roughly 40-year-old private nonprofit that responds to health problems in the developing world such as HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, cancer, and family planning and reproductive health.
Healthy Pharms, represented by Valerio Romano, a San Francisco attorney currently in Boston, has on its board a Wayland consultant, Steven Freundlich, and a Cambridge restaurateur, Paul Overgaag.
Romano, who has experience with medical marijuana issues in California and is assisting about 10 applications in Massachusetts, said those connections may help at the local level, but he believed DPH is conducting the state end of the process “transparently and thoroughly.” But having a name could make a difference locally, he said.
“I had a client who leased property to a guy who wanted to franchise a 7-Eleven on a site that had been a convenience store,” Romano said. “It took almost a year to get the permit transferred to a 7-Eleven. They weren’t doing anything new. So now you think of a polarizing issue like medical marijuana and you’re trying to get into a local municipality. It helps to know someone, like a former state rep. They can make calls because maybe they know someone. You can’t blame an applicant for trying to leverage those connections, as long as they’re not bribing people.”
Romano said the applications he represents do not have local heavyweights, but one of his clients, proposing a facility in Dennis, is competing against former Congressman William Delahunt, who proposed facilities in Mashpee, Plymouth and Taunton. Romano said he does not believe the state process will be different, but again, locally it could be another matter.
“Most of my clients are in this to help patients, not political bigwigs who saw dollar signs,” he said. “In Dennis we spent a year getting a special permit and we didn’t have any help. It can work without the local connection, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Whether Congressman Delahunt could pick up the phone and get that done in a week, I don’t know.”
The Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes Foundation is based in Andover, but is proposing facilities in Lowell and Beverly. The board includes founder and clerk Dr. Jayne Vining, wife of Vining Disposal’s former owner David Vining, his son Bert Vining, North Andover attorney Howard R. Perkins Jr., and Cambridge city engineer Innocent E. Lugumamu.
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