The Springfield, Massachusetts City Council are investigating why a cannabis business is planning to spend $200,000 over a five-year period on a school environmental program and park in the city, hoping to determine whether the company made a deal with the mayor’s office in exchange for an operator’s license, according to a WGBH report.
The inquiry comes less than two weeks after Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia was arrested for attempting to extort at least four cannabusinesses for $250,000 each in exchange for “non-opposition letters” to operate in the city. Correia is alleged to have generated about $600,000 in the scheme.
Springfield City Council President Justin Hurst said the council was doing its “due diligence” to make sure the local government is “transparent.”
“Springfield residents want to believe their government is doing the right thing, and that the government is not doing the wrong thing just to get a few extra dollars.” – Hurst, to WGBH
Mark Zatyrka, CEO for the cannabis company, I.N.S.A, told WGBH that the donations were “strictly voluntary” and the company is “happy to provide as much back to the community” as they can.
Melinda Phelps, an attorney for I.N.S.A., said three of the four owners of the company participated in the Environmental Center for Our Schools program – to which the company plans to give $20,000 per year for five years. The company promised another $20,000 per year over five years to renovate the city’s Forest Park, which is adjacent to the site of the company’s proposed dispensary. I.N.S.A. already operates a dispensary in the city and none of the other three companies seeking a host agreement are offering any similar donations.
Hurst said that some citizens “might feel as though [the] money could be better spent.”
In their agreement with Easthampton, I.N.S.A paid the city $10,000 – which exceeds the 3 percent cap – with no justification.
Peter Bernard, executive director of the Massachusetts Growers Advocacy Council, said that the donations sometimes turn big companies against smaller ones in a “bidding war.”
“But it shouldn’t be a bidding war, it’s a licensing process,” he said in the report. “[Municipalities] are not supposed to be looking for the highest bidder.”
The city council will vote this week on whether to approve the agreement or send it back to the committee.