City Supports Medical Marijuana Dispensary, Mulls Moratorium on Recreational Sales

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The city of Haverhill and Alternative Therapies Group will negotiate conditions of a host city agreement to allow the company to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.

A majority of councilors supported the mayor in signing a letter of non-opposition for ATG, but not before the council became sidetracked by an extended discussion about protecting the city’s ability to regulate the sale of recreational marijuana in the future.

Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua and Colin F. LePage argued that the letter specify that ATG could sell only medical marijuana, and sought the addition of the words, “not recreational.”

Fiorentini warned that any changes to the state’s template for the letter would render it useless.

Councilor William J. Macek told his colleagues they were jumping the gun.

“People get reefer madness just thinking about what’s coming down the pike,” Macek said.

Currently, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission is considering regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana. Bevilacqua said he wanted to ensure that the state could not dictate to the city how it would handle the sale of recreational marijuana when the time comes.

LePage said the council’s Administration and Finance Subcommittee will ask the full council to enact a moratorium on the sale of recreational marijuana until the state Cannabis Control Commission creates regulations, followed by a six-month period during which the council would study the state guidelines and come up with its own plan.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle urged his colleagues to consider only the question in front of them, which was whether to approve an order supporting the mayor’s decision to sign the non-opposition letter.

Ultimately, the council, with the exception of LePage and Bevilacqua, approved the order with praise for the company and its executive director, Christopher Edwards.

I think we have done our vetting and due diligence. We have the most experienced company in the state and we are fortunate to have that,” Macek said. “We should welcome them here as an asset to our community and for our people who are looking for relief of pain and other ailments.”

ATG was the first company to receive a state license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary, which it located in Salem.

“We’ve been two and a half years in Salem without any incident whatsoever,” Edwards said. “Our team has a solid reputation.”

Edwards said the company is investing between $2.5 million and $3 million to buy and prepare a site in the Medical Marijuana Overlay District, off Broadway between Computer and Research drives, and build a 6,000-square-foot facility.

“We are committed to Haverhill. We believe this is an under-served section of Essex County,” Edwards said.

Haverhill can expect ATG to offer financial benefits in the host city agreement that includes 3 percent of gross revenues for a term of five years, the highest level allowed by state law. In addition, Edwards said, the company will give priority to local vendors and contractors and to local residents for jobs.

ATG will make an annual charitable contribution of $25,000 a year, and will waive its rights to on-site consumption of its products, Edwards said.

Fiorentini praised the financial benefits offered by ATG, but they aren’t the main reason he supports the company.

“The driving force for me is that there are people in Haverhill who need these products and right now they have to go somewhere else to get them,” Fiorentini said.

Dr. John Maddox, Haverhill’s school district physician, asked councilors to be vigilant and to regulate ATG as closely as possible.

“Haverhill is now the Number One city in Essex County in opioid deaths,” Maddox said. Teen use of marijuana and tobacco is on the rise, he said.

Maddox said he is concerned by the location of the ATG dispensary roughly a mile from Haverhill High School.