HAVERHILL — The City Council has approved four retail marijuana shops for Haverhill, but none has opened its doors yet.
That has locals wondering when sales will begin and how many pot shops the city will eventually get.
One shop owner hopes to open for business this fall, while another is looking to start sales early next year.
A fifth shop is also proposed for the city. For residents who are concerned that Haverhill may gain the label "pot city,'' however, city leaders remind the public that the number of shops is limited to six in a community of this size — 35 square miles.
The city has granted all necessary pot shop permits to Caroline Pineau, who plans to open Haverhill Stem LLC at 124 Washington St., the former Sons of Italy hall; Robert DiFazio, a disabled U.S. Navy veteran from Amesbury who plans to open CNA Stores in a small business plaza at 558 River St.; and Janet Kupris, CEO of Full Harvest Moonz who to open a shop at 101 Plaistow Road, the site of the former Jimmy K's restaurant.
The fourth pot shop permit in Haverhill was secured last month by lifelong Haverhill residents Tim Riley, Charlie Emery and Phil Brown. They plan to open their Mellow Fellows at the site of the former Seafood Etc. on Amesbury Road, but they must still meet other local requirements that have already been met by the other three shop owners.
Pineau's planned timeline for the former Sons of Italy hall makes her shop the most likely to open first in Haverhill.
"We're aiming for a fall opening," Pineau said. "I’m working with the state on my provisional license, which is in the queue with the CCC (state's Cannabis Control Commission) and appears to be in the final stages of the approval process.
"We’ve begun building improvements to the 1890s building, which must be brought up to current codes," she said of her shop's downtown location.
The City Council approved a permit for her shop June 18.
Pineau, a Maine native, has lived in Haverhill for the past 10 years. She operates The Yoga Tree, a community yoga studio that she launched almost nine years ago on Washington Street.
Several downtown businessmen are suing the city to block Pineau's marijuana shop from moving into the heart of downtown. The suit says the city acted improperly when setting up zoning that allows pot shops to move into the area. The suit targets the location where Pineau wants to open her business. She said, however, that she doesn't anticipate the suit impacting her timeline toward opening.
The City Council granted a special permit July 9 to DiFazio, the Navy veteran from Amesbury who plans to open his shop in a small plaza on River Street.
DiFazio said he hopes to open the business during the first three months of next year, and that he's waiting to receive a license from the state Cannabis Control Commission before starting renovations.
"The CCC is inundated with applications at this time," he said. "This is a new and evolving industry and inevitably as we go through the process and find what works and what doesn't work, being able to adapt at a fast pace will be key to success."
DiFazio said he is in business with his friend Billy Haggard, who is also a Navy veteran and lives in Dallas.
"We are the only two owners of the business," DiFazio said.
He said he also plans to open a retail shop in Amesbury, along with a cannabis cultivation and growing facility.
City Council approved a pot shop permit June 11 for Janet Kupris, CEO of Full Harvest Moonz. She plans to open her shop near the Plaistow line at the site of the former Jimmy K's restaurant, which moved to another location. Kupris was unavailable for comment for this story.
Mellow Fellows received its permit at a City Council meeting in August, but still must negotiate a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with the city before the business can apply for a license with the state's Cannabis Control Commission.
The HCA is a crucial part of any marijuana retailer's establishment process. It is an agreement between the city and the shop owner that lays out what the business will offer the city in exchange for being allowed to operate.
According to Mayor James Fiorentini's office, representatives of Mellow Fellows have met with the mayor's Marijuana Review Committee, a group that advises the mayor.
The next step, according to the mayor's office, is for Mellow Fellows to request a copy of a Host Community Agreement and then make an appointment with the mayor to review the document. The mayor will then decide whether or not to approve the agreement.
At council hearings on special permits for retail marijuana shops, Councilor Joseph Bevilaqua has regularly voiced his objection to having the businesses in Haverhill.
"We are now the 'pot city' of the Merrimack Valley," he said during the Aug. 20 council meeting.
Other councilors have said that by considering permits for retail marijuana shops they are carrying out the wishes of a majority of voters who approved legalizing the shops statewide.