White Coat Notes

More than 100 groups apply to become medical marijuana dispensaries

More than 100 applicants on Thursday filed requests for a license to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts, but nearly two-thirds may ultimately be turned away. Under the state law approved by voters last November, the state may license up to 35 dispensaries this year.

“We’re glad that it was a highly competitive process,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Barlett. “It will ensure patients access to the medical use of marijuana in the Commonwealth.”

Bartlett said the department plans to choose the dispensaries before the end of the year after a careful review, and it could take several more months before the facilities begin operating.

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“Today patients are one step closer to safely accessing their medicine,” Matt Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which advocated for the medical marijuana ballot question, said in a press release.

In the first review phase, applicants are not required to say where they hope to operate. Instead, they must clear a background check and prove their financial viability by showing they have at least $500,000 to get started. The department in mid-September will announce which applicants have cleared those preliminary hurdles.

The second phase will be more detailed, including site reviews and evaluations of dispensaries’ ability to maintain a secure facility and meet people’s health needs. The applicants also must secure local support.

That could prove to be tricky for some. Several Massachusetts towns banned the dispensaries before the attorney general said towns can regulate the facilities but not prohibit them altogether. Some have instead instituted a moratorium while they change health and zoning rules.

“Surely there will be proposals that will be inconsistent with what the community would like, and that will be the challenge throughout this process,” said Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “We believe that local wishes should be given extraordinary weight.”

Leaders in some towns have signaled that they are open to hosting a dispensary, adjusting their zoning rules without a moratorium. Among them is Norwell, where organizers of the nonprofit Mass Medi-Spa would like to open a facility to grow, process, and sell medical marijuana products. If their plan is approved, they also would sell at a dispensary on Nantucket.

Chief executive Jeffrey Roos said the group has the $900,000 it needs under state regulations as initial capital for the two locations, more money promised from investors, and board members with experience running dispensaries in New Jersey and Colorado. It also has a license on a technology to collect oil from the marijuana plant that can be used to infuse candies or other food with doses of the plant’s active compounds.

“We’re not a pot shop,” he said. “It’s a different mentality, I think, than a lot of people have. We’re trying to change some attitudes about the industry.”

Roos said he has already begun talking with local officials in Norwell. The opening of a dispensary “affects a lot of people,” he said. “We want to make sure that, the community that we operate in, they want us there.”

The list of applications will be posted online Friday at mass.gov/medicalmarijuana.

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