Grow, Gift, Repair

Drama in Cambridge

Healthy Pharms opened in late December in the high-rent Harvard Square neighborhood. It closed temporarily in February after a pesticide was found in its product, and it remains closed today while under investigation by the Department of Public Health.

Several commercial real estate businesses that own neighboring properties brought two lawsuits to keep Healthy Pharms out. The first is a zoning appeal, which is pending in state court. The second is the federal RICO suit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts.

RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a federal law that provides increased penalties for crimes committed as part of a criminal organization. It was written to deal with mob crime, but has since been expanded to a wide range of uses.

RICO has been used in only a handful of other cases involving state-licensed marijuana businesses, in Oregon and Colorado.

Those cases either settled or are still pending. So far, the only major judicial ruling came out of Colorado, where neighbors claimed they were harmed by the odor of a marijuana grow facility. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that it was not appropriate to use the RICO statute to prosecute a state-licensed marijuana business. But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that, deciding that RICO can be used. The case is continuing in U.S. District Court.

It is possible that once these cases make it through the judicial process, one of them could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Massachusetts, neighbors sued Healthy Pharms, its top officials, real estate company, advisers and insurers, as well as the state, the city of Cambridge and the town of Georgetown, which licensed Healthy Pharms. The neighbors argue that their properties will lose $27 million in value due to Healthy Pharms’ operations.