By Scott Gacek
The Department of Public Health will issue between 7 and 35 medical marijuana dispensary licences out of over 100 applications that were received last year.
Under the language of Question 3, the initiative approved by 63% of the state’s voters in 2012, at least one medical marijuana dispensary must be approved to open in each of Massachusetts’ seven counties.
There is a limit of five dispensaries per county, capping the maximum number of dispensaries statewide at 35.
While the Department of Public Health has been criticized for it’s handling of implementing the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, including their July 2013 decision to stop allowing patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana until dispensaries are open, some patient advocates applaud the progress the DPH has made.
“I’ve been impressed with the steps that DPH has taken to execute a transparent process and develop regulations that address concerns from an array of stakeholders,” said Matthew J. Allen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA). “Given the number of applicants and the thoughtful approach the agency has taken so far, I’m confident that the final pool of licensees will represent those best qualified to meet patient needs.”
About 140 individual non-profit organizations submitted applications to operate dispensaries in Massachusetts, with some groups hoping to operate multiple dispensaries in the Bay State.
A total of 181 applications for individual dispensaries were submitted in the first phase of the application process, with 158 of those applications advancing to the second phase.
Of those 158 approved to advance, about 100 applicants paid the $30,000 application fee to advance to phase two of the application process. The final dispensaries selected must also pay an annual $50,000 registration fee.
Phase 2 applicants must demonstrate local community support for their proposed location during the application review process, and must show that they can comply with all municipal rules, regulations, ordinances and bylaws.
Regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries require them to follow strict security plans, require seed to sale monitoring, restrict signage, and prohibit of on site medical marijuana use.
Only patients with a doctor’s recommendation and an identification card issued by the state will be permitted to enter dispensaries.
Throughout the application process, the Department of Public Health has come under fire from medical marijuana patients and activists, who say the guidelines created by the Department are catered towards profits for the select few who are able to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the state, and do not protect patients.
Advocates fear that the high costs of fees associated with opening a dispensary, combined with the elimination of home cultivation and limiting caregivers to only one patient, will lead to limited access of medical marijuana for patients, with high dispensary prices forcing patients to continue purchasing medical marijuana on the black market.
Dispensaries are expected to finally open later this year. Meanwhile, a drive is already underway to place an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuanaon the November 2016 ballot.