License denied to Northborough business amid drug paraphernalia concerns
By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Northborough — A Northborough business applicant will not receive a beer and wine license, after the board of selectmen Dec. 2 came to an impasse over the concerns of the possible sale of marijuana pipes. The hearing for the license was a continuation of a hearing that began late last month.
Kabir Saheb, Inc. had requested that a Wine and Malt Package Store license be transferred from Reliance Beer & Wine, Inc., the current operators of the business at 293 Main St.
Selectmen said they were worried about previous statements made by the applicant that glass pipes sold at the store would likely be used to smoke marijuana.
In July 2012 a fire at Reliance Beer and Wine caused the store to close due to significant damages. The alcohol license has been held in non-use by Reliance since. An attorney for Reliance owner Atul Patel later requested an extension of non-use of the license until Oct. 31, at which time a lessee would request that selectmen approve the transfer of the beer and wine license.
That new lessee was reportedly One Stop Beer Wine and Cigar, owned by Jack Patel. However, the transfer of the liquor license appears to now be in limbo.
At the Dec. 2 hearing, Michael O’Neil, an attorney for the applicant, said his client’s plans to sell the pipes had remained unchanged.
O’Neil said the glass pipes would be sold “with other assorted traditional tobacco pipes” in a small display case in the rear of the store.
Vice Chair Dawn Rand said she was concerned about a “confrontational-type of business with the police department.”
However, Selectman William Pantazis said the board couldn’t legally deny the license because they were worried glass pipes would be sold.
“He’s here for an application for a beer and wine license,” said Pantazis, adding that it was up to police to enforce Massachusetts law.
“We’re all about trying to be business-friendly,” Pantazis said, adding that the board’s “obligation is to approve the license or not approve it.”
The board could have approved the license with “qualifying language, putting the applicant on notice that these pipes and paraphernalia would be monitored by the police department, and any violation of Massachusetts general law would be investigated and pursued thoroughly,” according to Town Administrator John W. Coderre.
The board’s second option would be to deny the license, citing comments the applicant previously made to police, indicating that the applicant would be “knowingly selling paraphernalia for illegal purposes.”
Northborough Police Chief Mark Leahy said the applicant seemed willing to jeopardize his beer and wine license for the sake of selling glass pipes.
“It makes one wonder what’s more important in his mind,” Leahy said.
“The question is motives, here,” said Selectmen Chair Leslie Rutan. “I can’t support an application at this time where the applicant is honestly saying the pipes will be sold for marijuana usage.”
Selectmen came to a 2-2 impasse on two votes. Selectman Jeff Amberson, who could have cast a potentially tie-breaking vote, was absent.
The first vote was Rand’s motion to deny the license, citing the need to “protect the common good, with Pantazis and Selectman Aaron Hutchins in opposition.
The second vote was a motion to approve the license, subject to the conditions that Patel would “comply with all laws” and that the applicant would takes “all reasonable action to ensure” goods sold would not be used for use with controlled substances.
“I’m looking at this as a legal issue,” Hutchins said, stating that he didn’t believe selectmen had the authority to deny the application based on the “speculation” that paraphernalia sold would be used for illegal activities. “If we deny the application, the town’s going to incur legal costs.”
According to O’Neil, Patel was unwilling to continue the hearing further, meaning the selectmen’s impasse effectively denies the license. O’Neil said his client would pursue an appeal.
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