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Haverhill City Council extends moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries amid concerns about ‘misrepresentations’

HAVERHILL — The City Council extended a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday night amid concerns about what council president John A. Michitson called “alleged serious misrepresentations” by Healthy Pharms Inc. in its bid to operate a facility in Haverhill.

The council voted unanimously to extend the moratorium to Nov. 18, and sent the issue to its administration and finance committee to determine what area of the city would be appropriate for a dispensary. Haverhill is trying to establish a zone where dispensaries would be allowed by special permit.

“It’s not always good to be first,” said Councilor William J. Macek, who initiated the motion for the extension after a lengthy discussion of “flaws and discrepancies” in Healthy Pharms’ application.

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Mashpee-based Healthy Pharms was one of 20 applicants statewide selected last month by the Department of Public Health for a provisional license. The company has proposed a dispensary at 114 Hale St., in an industrial area outside downtown.

Healthy Pharms’ application included a letter signed by Councilor Robert H. Scatamacchia that stated: “The City of Haverhill is neither in favor or opposed to the siting of a marijuana dispensary in the City of Haverhill.”

In its evaluation process, the state gave extra points to applicants that had letters of support or non-opposition.

Scatamacchia said he signed the letter, which details the city’s plans to schedule hearings and determine the appropriate site “to allow a dispensary to apply for a permit,” last November when he was council president, but said he had no idea it would be included in Healthy Pharms’ application. The letter had been written by Healthy Pharms and “redrafted” by city staff, Mayor James J. Fiorentini said.

“I had never heard of Healthy Pharms until just the other day,” Scatamacchia said at Tuesday night’s council meeting. “Had I known that letter had been written by Healthy Pharms, I wouldn’t have signed it.”

Scatamacchia said he believed the letter was needed to inform state health officials that Haverhill was extending its moratorium on dispensaries to Feb. 25 to give the city time to do its due diligence before defining a proper zone for such facilities.

Including the letter in its application as evidence of the city’s non-opposition was one of several “untruths” made by Healthy Pharms, Scatamacchia said, noting that several officials, including William Pillsbury Jr., Haverhill’s economic development and planning director, and Dennis DiZoglio, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, have publicly denied what was characterized by Healthy Pharms as endorsements.

Nathaniel Averill, executive director of Healthy Pharms, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. Healthy Pharms had been invited to attend the council meeting but declined, the mayor said.

In light of the questions being raised regarding Healthy Pharms’ application, Haverhill resident Tim Coco asked Secretary of State William F. Galvin Tuesday for “a determination . . . as to whether Healthy Pharms, Inc. lacked candor or otherwise engaged in material misrepresentations in its filings with the Department of Public Health.”

Massachusetts voters in legalized marijuana for medical use in November 2012, allowing as many as 35 treatment centers across the state.

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