EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 2, 2014

Rivera: Lawrence says 'no' to pot stores

Incoming mayor looks to avoid controversy

By Douglas Moser

---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor-elect Daniel Rivera will oppose licensing any medical marijuana facilities here, one of only two communities that voted against the 2012 referendum that legalized the drug for medicinal use, in a break from outgoing Mayor William Lantigua.

Rivera, who takes office in a private swearing-in tonight and plans a public inauguration for Saturday, said he will call the state Department of Public Health, which will issue dispensary licenses, to express his opposition.

“I understand the medical efficacy of it. I’m not trying to fight that reasoning,” Rivera said. “But Lawrence has had its share of, let’s call it controversial issues. We don’t want to add that. The community here voted against it. We’re trying to change our perception here. We want people to know we’re doing things that are not controversial.”

Local officials cannot prohibit dispensaries from opening within their community borders, according to a decision from the state attorney general’s office last year. Cities and towns can, though, restrict where a dispensary may operate.

“We will abide by state law and will zone appropriately,” Rivera said. “But we want DPH to know we don’t want a medical marijuana dispensary located in Lawrence.”

DPH can issue up to five dispensary licenses per county, and seven nonprofit corporations have applied — two in Salem, two in Beverly, one in Haverhill and one in Lawrence.

Among the factors DPH will consider is community support, along with appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of dispensaries and the applicant’s ability to meet the overall health needs of registered patients while ensuring public safety.

Rivera hopes DPH will take his opposition, and the city’s vote against the referendum, into consideration when issuing licenses.

“I understand one of the applicants has a letter of support from outgoing Mayor Lantigua to allow for one to be placed here, but my administration will be advocating against any licenses to be awarded in Lawrence,” Rivera said.

Charles M. Saba, president of BeWell Organic Medicine Inc., and Nathaniel L. Averill, president of Healthy Pharms Inc., have proposed dispensaries in Lawrence and Haverhill, respectively.

Saba said he did not want to comment until he has had a chance to meet with Rivera.

Haverhill also has a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city while it grapples with where to place them.

The companies operating medical marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries must be nonprofits under state law.

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 2012, 63.3 percent in favor to 36.7 percent against, to legalize the sale and use of marijuana with a doctor’s certification to treat a “debilitating medical condition,” such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV-positive status or AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS or multiple sclerosis.

That measure also instructed DPH to draw up rules and regulations for issuing licenses and for how dispensaries should operate.

Lawrence voted against the proposal 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. Bellingham, about 15 miles south of Framingham on the Rhode Island border, voted against it 54 percent to 46 percent.

Earlier this year, 181 applicants filed with DPH, and 100 of them continued to the second, more thorough phase.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.

To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.