Rift raises issues over plans for city compassion center
While Warwick Police Chief Stephen McCartney says the proposed security plan for a compassion center on Jefferson Boulevard and a nearby facility on Illinois Avenue where marijuana would be grown addresses his concerns, differences among the original directors of the company raise questions whether the plan will be realized.
Monday night Armand Spaziano, president of Summit Medical Compassion Center, appeared in City Hall with the intent of briefing the City Council on plans for the center. Spaziano said only a few words before turning the presentation over to Terrence Fracassa, who has been representing Summit since it advanced a proposal with the financial backing of professional basketball player and URI graduate Cuttino Mobley more than two years ago. Fracassa is a principal officer of Summit. According to the Summit application, the Mobley Pain Management and Wellness Center LLC is the sole owner and financial backer of the center. The proposal states Mobley is investing $4 million in the center.
“This is a very small project compared to what it used to be,” Fracassa said.
Initially, Summit planned to partner with the Kent Center, with the compassion center operating from that building on Post Road in Greenwood. The marijuana was going to be grown indoors in a unit of the former Leesona Manufacturing building on Strawberry Field Road.
But plans for three compassion centers in the state languished when Governor Lincoln Chafee questioned the state’s liability. He imposed a moratorium on the centers, which has since been lifted. Although the state legislature sanctioned the centers and the Department of Health agreed to consider proposals for three centers, the sale of marijuana remains a federal offense. Guidelines for the program were reworked and the size of the operations reduced.
The City Council has no control over the compassion center other than whether it meets zoning regulations, which the latest proposal does. The purpose of the presentation, therefore, was informational. However, it soon revealed a rift within the board of directors.
As for the status of the proposal, Fracassa said Summit hopes to finalize lease agreements for the two properties within the month and, providing Department of Health approval of the company’s operational application, that the center would be operational by this fall. Even though Summit has not finalized its leases, it went ahead with development of security plans for both locations.
McCartney said he has a high regard for Summit’s director of security, Napoleon Brito, a retired Providence Police sergeant who he had worked with in Providence.
“I’m very impressed with the document,” McCartney said of an inch-thick binder he held. “Conceptually it looks good … you’re going to get a no nonsense professional operation.”
But could the city face a legal liability if the U.S. Attorney General came after the state and the city? Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla wanted to know.
McCartney pointed out he isn’t in a position to offer a legal opinion, but it is his understanding that the U.S. Attorney has lessened his objections.
“I hope that answers your question,” he said to Merolla.
“It answers the question, but not my concerns,” Merolla retorted.
That was just the beginning to the questions.
Dr. Frank Maggiacomo of Cranston, who is listed as a Summit board member, said that he and fellow board member Dr. Alan Weitberg are protesting Summit’s latest proposal.
Maggiacomo said he is concerned by how the new plan moved forward and that it is not the original application he and Weitberg worked on.
“I believe it strayed away from the medical model,” he said.
Summit attorney Gerald Goulet said that Maggiacomo and Weitberg failed to attend a board meeting where changes were evidently discussed.
“It’s hard to put a finger on what is the real problem here,” Goulet said. He claimed there is no difference in the medical models of the two plans.
The discussion left some council members with an uneasy feeling.
Ward 1 Councilman Steven Colantuono questioned whether the council should continue to hear what amounts to a corporate argument. The council agreed and the presentation was halted.
Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said yesterday that Summit has not submitted an application to operate a center, which is the next step, after having gained approval to advance a proposal. Of the two other state proposals, she said the department has requested Greenleaf in Portsmouth to address “issues” with its operational application. She said the Slater Center in Providence is already operating.
She also said that, by statute, the centers are not-for-profit organizations. She said centers are not required to have a medical physician on their board and that board members listed in the initial proposal need not be the same as those in the application for operation.
Later Monday night, outside council chambers, Maggiacomo claimed Mayor Scott Avedisian has backed off from his support of the Summit plan. He produced a Nov. 28, 2012 letter Avedisian wrote to Department of Health Director Dr. Michael Fine in which he says he has become aware of an internal struggle between incorporators.
“These events are troubling to me, as my original indication of support was based specifically on the professional backgrounds of two of the principals of Summit who I am informed are now the subject of the ouster effort, and Summit’s organizational and operational format which originally included experienced and reliable members of the medical profession.”
Avedisian was not available for comment yesterday.
Also reached after the appearance before the council, Spaziano said the center would be operated as a not-for-profit operation with funds coming back to the community. He said no decisions have been reached on what organization could receive funds.
As for the pricing of the marijuana, Fracassa said that would be determined by the market as well as the quality of the product. He said as a non-profit, the center would provide discounts for individuals needing financial assistance.