EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 8, 2014

Marijuana group to appeal DPH decision

By Douglas Moser

---- — A local non-profit group that did not receive a medical marijuana dispensary license for its proposal in Lawrence is disputing the reasons why it was rejected.

BeWell Organic Medicine, Inc. president Charles Saba said yesterday he contacted the state Department of Public Health, which issued 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses on Jan. 31, including a proposal in Haverhill, because he believed his organization was scored incorrectly in the location, physical structure and local support part of the application, called category five.

“BeWell Organic, Inc. stands by our application,” Saba said yesterday. “We believe we have hit every aspect and answered objectively every single question. With reference to category five, we believe that we were incorrectly scored. We think ICF International inadvertently made some errors in the scoring process and we are moving forward and have asked DPH to send us the scoring sheets for our group and a couple other groups, and have requested the informal hearing.”

ICF International is a national management consultant company based in Virginia that scored the 100 applications for DPH.

BeWell scored 56 out of a possible 65 points in category five, and 137 out of an overall total of 163 points.

Anne Roach, a spokeswoman for DPH, said the score sheets breaking down each applicant’s score by category and question will be released after the agency meets with applicants who want debriefings. She would not disclose the scheduling of the hearing or hearings, or who would participate in them.

“In February, we will hold debriefings with applicants who wish to participate in this process and take any issues they raise into account,” she said in an email yesterday. “This process is consistent with state procurement principles. We cannot comment on the details while this is unfolding.”

Saba said Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera’s opposition to his proposal skewed his application’s score. BeWell included a letter of support from former Mayor William Lantigua and a letter signed by health agent Peter Blanchette stating the Lawrence Board of Health is “satisfied that their plans appear to meet our concerns regarding health and safety in the city of Lawrence.”

Saba said he tried repeatedly to reach Rivera after the November election, in which Rivera defeated Lantigua by a few dozen votes following a recount, to discuss the new mayor’s position on a dispensary, but did not know Rivera opposed a dispensary in Lawrence until he read it in The Eagle-Tribune in January.

“We had other locations in other cities cited,” Saba said. “The reason we selected Lawrence is because we thought the location was perfect. It was off the highway and in the proposed zone. We had the support of the mayor and the Board of Health. If we thought for one minute that the mayor-elect was against this, we could have changed our application and could have gone to a number of locations, including Merrimac, which has an actual zone in place, Lowell where we had a potential option in an actual zone and had met with the city, and Haverhill where we had actually cited out locations.”

The deadline for submitting the second-phase applications for provisional licenses to DPH was Nov. 21.

Rivera said the post-election recount process and building his administrative team were higher priorities for him than a dispensary application. “That he had an agreement with the prior mayor doesn’t mean I had to rush to put medical marijuana on the top of my agenda ahead of this deadline,” he said. “It’s too bad because Mr. Saba’s family is part of the community, but it should be no surprise to him that a community that didn’t vote for it wouldn’t want it. He shouldn’t have proposed it here to begin with.”

Lawrence was one of two communities – the other being the town of Bellingham – that voted against the medical marijuana ballot question in 2012, which passed statewide with 63 percent support. Lawrence voted 51.3 percent against medical marijuana.

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