By Douglas Moser
---- — Five applicants for medical marijuana facilities in the area got the green light to move to the next stage recently as cities and towns continue to grapple with where to allow them to operate.
Two of the applicants are eyeing Haverhill, which has a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries as it considers zoning rules, while one looked at Lawrence, which also has a moratorium. A fourth sent a letter of intent to Methuen city officials and a fifth listed both Haverhill and Methuen on its state application.
Phase one of the application process, which was recently completed, required proof of non-profit incorporation and financial documentation showing the group has at least $500,000 available for the first facility and $400,000 for each subsequent facility. Phase two requires, among other things, a decision about which community a facility will be located in and specific details about the property in mind.
One of the five applicants, Lawrence landlord Joseph Shelzi, said he decided he may back away from his proposal to open a dispensary in Haverhill because of resistance from city officials. Haverhill earlier this month extended its moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana facilities until mid-November.
Shelzi, who created a nonprofit called Mass Compassion, said officials have rebuffed his requests to negotiate in the meantime. “Every time I try to approach them, they push me away and remind me about he moratorium,” he said. “Other communities seem to understand that it can be a parallel process and one doesn’t preclude the other.”
He is talking with another local community, but declined to name which one.
Shelzi has helped others with dispensaries in Colorado and Maine, and said his employees would be trained at dispensaries in Maine, which legalized medical marijuana in a 2009 referendum, before working in Massachusetts.
Another applicant, a physician eyeing a dispensary in Lawrence, said he will not continue to phase two because of the large number of applicants the state invited and because of the uncertainty that comes with prescribing a drug that is legal at the state level but illegal under federal law.
“Even though the (U.S.) Attorney General said the federal government is not interested in pursuing medical marijuana growers in states that allow it, that allayed the fears of many people, but administrations change and the next election is not too far away,” said Dr. Joel Gorn, who formed a nonprofit called Patient Resource Center. “The landscape could certainly change. I’m a practicing physician with a large practice, and the practice is a state license, but my schedule two (prescription drug) license is federal. That could be jeopardized.”
Gorn did not rule out applying to open a dispensary in the future.
The Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes Foundation, based in Andover, is looking at either Haverhill or Methuen, but has not made a decision, said Jayne Vining, founder of the foundation.
“Since 2008 our passion and mission has been to save young lives from Cardiac Arrhythmia Syndromes and we have been extremely successful with 100 lives saved,” she said. “We now find ourselves with this new and exciting opportunity, by the passing of the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana Act, to expand our mission and help many who suffer from chronic and debilitating conditions — cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis just to name a few.”
The CAS Foundation wants to open three dispensaries and a grow facility, she said. The group is looking at Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Plymouth counties.
A group called Creative Botanical Development is looking at opening a dispensary in Haverhill. A spokesman for Creative Botanical chief executive officer Robert Hunt, John Taxiarchis, did not respond to request for comment.
A fifth, Garden Remedies Inc., sent a letter of intention to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Methuen to city officials Oct. 4. Dr. Karen Munkacy, chief executive officer of Garden Remedies, did not comment when reached by phone Friday.
A Newburyport-based company considered a dispensary in Andover. The company, Alternative Therapies Group, submitted an application that listed Newburyport and Amesbury as locations for its facilities.
Methuen has not instituted a moratorium, but William Buckley, the city’s director of community development, said internal discussion have been ongoing and the Community Development Board will consider a moratorium on Nov. 13 while the city identifies where it wants to zone dispensaries.
Haverhill is considering zoning dispensaries in business parks, though some of those parks are close to houses and city officials do not want dispensaries near residential areas.
Lawrence currently has a moratorium in place and is considering zoning changes. City Councilor Marc Laplante said he is wary of dispensaries in the city.
“We do need to listen to the voters. Lawrence was one of two communities saying we don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “That’s fundamental, and that’s not whether I think we should have these kinds of clinics.”
Earlier this year, state Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that communities cannot prohibit dispensaries from opening within their borders, but they can regulate where they are allowed to operate.
Voters last November approved making marijuana available to patients with certain medical conditions. All but two communities voted in favor of medical marijuana. Besides Lawrence, the other was Bellingham.
The state Department of Public Health, which is reviewing the 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 will weigh a number of factors when deciding which applications to approve, including proximity to other dispensaries to avoid clustering and keeping the dispensaries closer to populated areas. The law limits five dispensaries per county and 35 total statewide.
Applicants have until Nov. 7 to submit their full proposals to the state.
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