HAVERHILL — The first pot shop in the city could open as early as November after the City Council approved a special permit for Full Harvest Moonz to open an adult-use recreational marijuana store at 101 Plaistow Road.
Council President John Michitson along with councilors Melinda Barrett, Thomas Sullivan, Colin LePage, Timothy Jordan, William Macek and Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien voted to approve the permit at Tuesday night's council meeting. Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua voted in opposition. Councilor Michael McGonagle, who has bowed out of voting for special permits for pot shops, citing a conflict of interest, was not present.
Attorney Michael Migliori, who represented Harvest Moonz, outlined a revised traffic mitigation plan that eliminated a backup plan to run a customer shuttle from Amesbury Road (Route 110) to the retail location on Plaistow Road. A new plan focused on controlling customer visits through a strictly controlled appointment process and limiting appointments to 12 per hour, for at least the first three months of operation and possibly longer.
"The site will have negligible impact on traffic," Migliori said, claiming it will see less traffic than other businesses located at that site, which includes several restaurants and a coffee shop, with more restaurants planned.
Councilor Tim Jordan praised Harvest Moonz for revising its traffic flow down from what he said was an initial proposal of 11 appointments every 15 minutes, or 44 customer vehicles per hour.
As special permit condition, Jordan gained the approval of City Solicitor William Cox to require the police chief to approve any change from an appointment only process, or a change in the number of appointments per hour. His request was later amended to include the fire chief and city engineer.
"If we are talking 12 appointments every hour, that's going to be a lot less that if there was a comparable restaurant or anything else going in there," he said. "While traffic is bad, right now, this is probably better than a lot of other options that we would have."
In discussing the impact of a pot shop on the community, Michitson asked the mayor's aide, Shawn Regan, for a commitment to protect children in the community by providing prevention education and help when needed.
Michitson outlined a set of initiatives he said he discussed with the mayor, including providing vape detectors in all middle school restrooms at a cost of $35,000 (one-time expense), reapplying for the federal Drug Free Communities grant ($125,000 per year for five years) and making available city billboard space, including at the stadium, to promote healthy youth behaviors.
"For me this is a must to move forward," Michitson said.
Councilor LePage noted that state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, was able to secure $50,000 to purchase vape detectors for Haverhill High School.
Regan told Michitson that the mayor received a communication on Tuesday from school Superintendent Margaret Marotta noting the three things Michitson was asking for, and that the mayor has committed to funding those items.
Harvest Moonz notes that all appointments, which are available only to adults 21 or older, will be made through the company's website, and include a customer's name, email address and phone, followed by an email and text message confirmation. Customers will have the option of pre-ordering product as well.
When customers arrive at the shop, they will be required to show a valid, government issued ID along with appointment confirmation to either a police officer or security guard.
Janet Kupris of Weymouth, CEO of Full Harvest Moonz, outlined other traffic control details, including not allowing customers to enter the parking lot prior to 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment. Her plan calls for 17 dedicated parking spaces for customers, in addition to parking spaces for employees and a security guard.
Kupris said that as part of her traffic mitigation plan, her company plans to meet with police prior to opening the shop, one week after opening, two weeks after opening or as needed in the first month after opening, one month after opening, two months after opening, six months after opening and after that upon the request of police and/or city officials.
Councilor Barrett gained the approval that as a condition of the special permit, Full Harvest Moonz will fund an annual student risk survey and provide the district with health educational materials.
Following the vote, Kupris said she wants to work with the city in creating Haverhill's first retail marijuana establishment.
"We don't want to be a nuisance, we want to be good neighbors and do the right thing," Kupris said.
Migliori referred to Kupris' team as a "spectacular group" committed to doing the right thing.
"We've hooked up with Emmaus and Bethany Homes, there's a charitable contribution that's part of the host community agreement with the mayor's office, and it's just a start," he said. "We've committed to educational materials for the school department along with a survey the school department has apparently been unable to afford to do, so those things are going to get done.