City Signs Pact with Mellow Fellows, But Concedes Gift to School Drug Prevention Programs ‘Voluntary’

Architect Matthew Juros displays rendering of Mellow Fellows shop during community outreach at the UMass Lowell iHub. (WHAV News file photograph.)

While Mayor James J. Fiorentini has signed the fourth and last host community agreement with a recreational marijuana retailer, questions remain as to whether the city can count on money from the businesses for substance abuse prevention programs.

Last Friday, Fiorentini signed an agreement with Mellow Fellows for its 330 Amesbury Road location. It calls for, among other things, a Community Impact Fee of 3% of gross sales to paid to Haverhill for five years. When city councilors approved Mellow fellows’ special permit last August, members conditioned approval on the operation also paying the school department $22,000 a year for three years. Since then, U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling has called into question the legality of those extra payments.

Taking no chances, Fiorentini told WHAV Tuesday, the city now considers any extra contributions above the state-allowed 3% as “voluntary.”

School pediatrician John L. Maddox first championed the idea last May of asking retailers to pay for substance abuse prevention and addiction programs be paid by applicants. He told councilors, “There is an issue about diversion. There already been edibles confiscated from kids that are at school at our middle schools. It is already happening and it’s going to happen a lot more if we have one dispensary. It’s going to happen a heck of a lot more if we have six,” Maddox added.

Besides Mellow Fellows, councilors imposed the $22,000 extra annual payments to the schools on Full Harvest Moonz, 101 Plaistow Road, and CNA Stores, 558 River St. They did not require Stem, 124 Washington St., to make the contribution.

A call to Mellow Fellows for comment on whether the firm plans to make the school donation was not returned in time for this story.

Since then, upon the understanding the schools would receive money for such programs, a task force has set priorities. It has focused on a Youth Behavior Risk Survey at an annual cost of $12,000 and another $10,000 for textbook materials health instructors can use with students. The survey begins next month. If marijuana stores choose not to make the now-voluntary contributions, Maddox told WHAV, programs could be at risk.

“A few targeted items that have been bantered about consistently over time,” he said, adding, “If we can’t enforce it, I don’t know what that means. Let’s not let go of these needs that we finally have the opportunity to meet.” Superintendent Margaret Marotta, he explained, has also made her number one priority the hiring of substance abuse counselors. Counselors—one at the high school and another for the middle schools—would cost approximately $150,000 in annual salaries. Moreover, the city is trying to obtain a federal Drug Free Communities grant for a five-year period, but Haverhill’s required match would be $125,000 annually.

The task force includes Marotta, mayor’s Chief of Staff Allison Heartquist, Councilor Colin F. LePage, Community Action Executive Director John Cuneo, school Director of Health and Nursing Services Katie Vozeolas and others.

Besides taking part in voluntary drug abuse prevention programs, the city’s agreement with Mellow Fellows also calls on the company to participate in senior assistance, community cleanup and veterans’ assistance programs. The city also agrees to ensure the impact fee paid by Mellow Fellows is “reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment.”

In a nod to neighbors, the host agreement requires mellow fellows to pay $25,000 toward installation of traffic signals only if the state deems one to be necessary.

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