(See photograph gallery below.)
Massachusetts Army National Guard Veteran Stephen Mandile made the first purchase Tuesday when CNA Stores opened its adult-use marijuana business on River Street in Haverhill.
Mandile, a 2004-2005 veteran of the Iraq War, sought not only to signal his support of a veteran-owned business, but also veterans’ access to cannabis as way to combat the opioid overdose epidemic and address the veteran suicide crisis. As a sergeant serving in Operation Iraq Freedom 3 with the 793rd Military Police Battalion, he was medevacked home with a severe spinal cord injury.
“For 10 years, I was addicted to all of the opioids and other medications that I was getting from the VA. I lost purpose for quite awhile and made the switch to cannabis,” he explained
He now serves as the assistant legislative director for Disabled American Veterans Department of Massachusetts and is president of Alternative Treatment for Veterans. He shares his personal experiences with federal and state legislators. He also continues to serve, winning election in 2019 to the Uxbridge Board of Selectmen.
“I’ve just been able to find purpose and been able to find a way to serve again, which was something that was missing from my life and, really, how I identify as a person as someone that is serving in the community,” he said.
CNA—which stands for Completely Natural Alternatives—is owned by veterans Robert DiFazio, who serves as CEO, and Billie Haggard. They both served in the U.S. Navy—DiFazio in the U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program from 1994-1999, and Haggard who served as a nuclear machinist mate. They have both since worked in the data center industry. DiFazio built two companies Critical Solutions Group and Critical Power Testing and Maintenance and sold his last business in 2018. He still owns a pizza shop in Brunswick, Maine. Following in his footsteps, his daughter plans to open a pizza shop, River Street Café, two doors down, in January.
CNA also plans retail store and a cultivation center, both in Amesbury.
The Haverhill store, 558 River St., is open Sunday-Wednesday, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m-8 p.m. For now, the store is open by appointment only. There are a total of 70 parking spaces—30 in front and 40 in back.