By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City Councilor Robert Scatamacchia said he was duped into signing a letter on behalf of a company that wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the city, and he is calling for an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office.
He said he was used by James Jajuga, a Methuen city councilor and former state senator who was working as a consultant to the company proposing the pot facility.
Jajuga initially tried to persuade Mayor James Fiorentini to sign a letter of support or non-opposition on behalf of dispensary operator Healthy Pharms Inc.
The mayor refused to sign either.
David Van Dam, the mayor’s aide, said Jajuga came to see Fiorentini in late November with at least two versions of the letter. One stated the city did not oppose or favor a dispensary in Haverhill. The other said the city supported one.
At some point during the meeting in the mayor’s office, it was decided to go with the letter of non-opposition and the language was edited slightly, Van Dam said.
Van Dam said he then called Scatamacchia and asked him to come to City Hall to sign the letter. Scatamacchia said the letter was waiting for him when he arrived and he quickly signed it and left without talking to the mayor or seeing Jajuga.
He said he didn’t know Jajuga was involved until recently.
The letter was a key factor in the state’s decision to award Healthy Pharms a provisional license to operate a marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.
The state Department of Public Health granted provisional licenses to 20 of 100 applicants on Jan. 31. Those that included letters of support or non-opposition from host communities received extra points in the evaluation process.
In a previous interview, Fiorentini said he declined to sign the letter because the decision where a dispensary should be located was up to the council.
Jajuga is a registered lobbyist who is also a former president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce and a former top state police officer.
In a phone interview yesterday, Jajuga said until recently he worked for Healthy Pharms as a paid consultant and adviser but not as a lobbyist.
He would not say how much he was paid or confirm that he met with the mayor on behalf of the company. He said he does not discuss work he performs for clients.
Jajuga said he agreed to work for Healthy Pharms because more than 60 percent of Haverhill voters supported legalizing marijuana for medical use in the 2012 election. He said he agrees cancer patients should be allowed to use marijuana to ease their pain.
Jajuga’s name does not appear anywhere in the nonprofit health care provider’s 160-page state application for a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.
Valerio Romano, a lawyer for Healthy Pharms, said Jajuga has been advising the company on “the political landscape in Haverhill.”
Scatamacchia said Jajuga called him hours before a November council meeting to solicit his opinion on Healthy Pharms’ proposal to open a dispensary in the city. The purpose of that night’s council meeting was to consider a proposal from Fiorentini to pass zoning regulations that would limit a dispensary to Hale Street, a busy industrial area near the city’s downtown.
The council declined to approve the zoning measure at the November meeting and instead voted to extend the city’s temporary ban on dispensaries to Feb. 25.
The meeting in the mayor’s office that ended with Scatamacchia signing the letter of non-opposition came about a week after that council meeting.
Scatamacchia said Jajuga also tried to contact him Wednesday afternoon while he was being interviewed for this story. He said Jajuga left him a phone message but he did not intend to return the call.
“I feel like I was used by Jajuga and the mayor,” Scatamacchia said. “You have a lobbyist for a company who’s aware of the licensing process, who writes a letter and then dupes me into signing it thinking it’s no big deal. I think it’s illegal and corrupt. And if it’s not illegal, it’s immoral. I want the attorney general to investigate this.”
In yesterday’s phone interview, Jajuga said he was unaware until recently that the community support or non-opposition letters carried so much weight in the state’s evaluation of applications for dispensary licenses.
The undated letter signed by Scatamacchia is on official City of Haverhill letterhead. It states the city is “neither in favor or opposed to the siting of a marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.” It mentions a moratorium was in effect pending a council decision on zoning for a dispensary.
Scatamacchia said the letter looked “innocuous” and he thought its purpose was only to show the state that the city had a moratorium on dispensaries but planned to pass zoning regulations within a few months allowing a dispensary in a specific area of the city.
Scatamacchia, who was council president at the time, said he assumed copies of the letter would be distributed to other councilors, as is the custom for all letters written or signed by the president on behalf of the council.
“But obviously that never happened,” Scatamacchia said.
Van Dam, the mayor’s aide who was at the late November meeting with Fiorentini and Jajuga, said it was an oversight that the other councilors weren’t given copies of the letter. But he also said it’s not the responsibility of the mayor’s office to make sure other councilors are given copies of letters by the president.
When the existence of the letter came to light earlier this week, several councilors said they were unaware of it and were shocked when they saw it. Council President John Michitson said he made copies of the letter and gave them to other councilors for the first time Tuesday night.
Haverhill ‘s moratorium on marijuana dispensaries expires Feb. 25 unless the council renews it.
Michitson said the zoning matter will be taken up at next Tuesday’s council meeting and that he expects it to be sent to a subcommittee for the purpose of holding a hearing and making recommendations to the full council prior to Feb. 25.
Haverhill ‘s moratorium on marijuana dispensaries expires Feb. 25 but can be renewed by the council.
Fiorentini has said the council still has authority to decide where a Haverhill dispensary can be located.
Healthy Pharms provisional state license is for 114 Hale St. — an old furniture building just north of downtown.
The CEO of Healthy Pharms, Nathaniel Averill, a former manager with Bristol-Myers Squibb, has a purchase-and-sale agreement with owner Ronald Auclair to buy the building for $360,000.
According to its proposal, the company plans to grow, process and distribute medical marijuana at the location. At the November council meeting, several neighbors showed up to voice their opposition to the Hale Street location.