By Kay Lazar and Virgie Hoban | GLOBE STAFF AND GLOBE CORRESPONDENT
SALEM — It was 40 minutes past 10 a.m., and already roughly two dozen patients waited in line. They had come for the start of business Wednesday at Alternative Therapies Group, the first dispensary to sell marijuana for medical use in Massachusetts. Patient number one was a gray-haired man with a walker.
Access to the dispensary is by appointment only. A police officer stood by the entrance to the old brick factory building, and a private security guard checked off patients’ names from a clipboard as they waited under crystal blue skies.
Voters in November 2012 overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in a statewide ballot initiative. But the awarding of dispensary licenses quickly became mired in controversy under the administration of Governor Deval Patrick, with questions about conflicts of interest and political favoritism. The system, stalled for months as patients grew increasingly frustrated, was recently revamped and streamlined by Governor Charlie Baker’s administration.
Now, nearly three years after the vote, medical marijuana is legally available to the 18,000 people who, according to state records, have the required physician certifications.
“We fought a long time for this,” said Peter Hayashi, a 59-year-old former neuropsychologist who was among the first to enter the dispensary.
Hayashi said he has a painful neurological condition — at times, cold air can make his skin hurt — and he has been getting medical marijuana from a Maine dispensary to ease his symptoms. Without the marijuana, he said, he has often spent hours in bed, his skin under covers to protect it against temperature changes.
“Marijuana has helped me be up and around more normally,” he said.
Wendy Atwood was waiting in line, too. The 53-year-old said she has used marijuana to ease knee and back pain from arthritis, depression, and anxiety. She also said she has long used the drug recreationally.
“I am a law-abiding citizen, a mom with two kids, and a day-care provider,” Atwood said. “It’s going to be very exciting” to walk into the dispensary, she added. “I’m happy that it’s not under wraps anymore.”
But the process was hardly speedy. Waves of patients waited up to an hour in line, and then, in small groups, were ushered inside.
They said they were shown a 10-minute video about marijuana and the types of strains the dispensary would be selling, although on Wednesday just two varieties were available.
Patients said they were not allowed to see or smell the products, and were instead shown pictures on a computer screen, using a system that staffers told patients they had learned to operate just the night before.
Patients said they placed their orders and then went to another area in the dispensary to pick them up.
Many said that the prices were higher than they had anticipated, and that the dispensary took only cash, but had an ATM for those who ran short.
Barry Levine, a 62-year-old self-employed lawyer from Marblehead, said he paid $372 for 1 ounce. Levine said marijuana helps ease his nausea from chronic gastritis.
Access to medical marijuana “is a panacea for everyone who uses it,” he said. “This for me is an old hippy’s fantasy land.”
About 120 patients had signed up for appointments Wednesday, according to the company’s security guard. Alternative Therapies executive director Christopher Edwards briefly stepped outside to speak with the guard, but declined a request for an interview.
Fourteen other dispensaries from Northampton to Boston have received preliminary state approval and are finalizing plans to open. At least two are expected to open this fall.
The executive director of a trade association for the dispensaries issued a statement saying the industry welcomes the opening of the first facility, but raised concerns the state’s testing standards for medical marijuana are too stringent.
“Massachusetts has the most conservative testing limits in the country,” Kevin Gilnack, executive director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, said in the statement.
Alternative Therapies was able to open after receiving a temporary waiver last week from the state that allows it to sell cannabis that has not been fully tested for pesticides and other contaminants.
The one-time waiver was granted because laboratories in Massachusetts are not yet able to complete the quality testing required under state health department rules, Baker’s office said last week.
But chemists at two labs poised to test dispensary products said the problem isn’t operations at the labs. The problem, they said, resides with the state’s guidelines, issued just six weeks ago, which set standards that are too stringent for lead.
The trade association said in its statement that the state made an errant assumption about how much marijuana patients might consume.
“A survey of available data showed that the heaviest users consume about 2 to 3 grams of cannabis per day,” Gilnack stated. “Connecticut assumed a patient might consume 2.33 grams per day while Nevada assumed a patient might consume 5 grams in a day,” he said, yet the Massachusetts Department of Public Health “based our testing limits on the assumption a patient could consume 28 grams — about six to 12 times more than what we’re seeing in other states.”
VIA The Boston Globe
In Good Health, a large warehouse on the west side of the city, 2,000 marijuana plants will be cultivated, with the state's blessing, when the non-profit business opens in July.
By Joseph Markman
BROCKTON – The medical marijuana dispensary on West Chestnut Street is part high-tech, part hands-on.In one room, an employee of the non-profit In Good Health carefully tends to baby marijuana plants. They sway before a fan, building strength for the journey ahead.In another room, adolescent weed grows in organic soil. Workers quench the plants’ thirst from a jug of water treated with nutrients. Eventually, the plants will flower into buds, be trimmed, dried, packaged and sold.
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The dispensary – licensed by the state and scheduled to open this summer – is housed in a nondescript warehouse in an industrial part of the city. Behind a printing shop, just past a row of brand-new, climate control compressors, there is a small parking lot.
To get inside, patients must present their state-issued medical marijuana registration card. A keypad, with a camera affixed, acts as the bouncer. The first room contains 18 lockers, for patients to store hats, jackets and other gear, along with a security guard.
A few feet away is the retail space, but first patients must pass through a metal detector and present their marijuana card and other state identification. A computer system scans their ID, telling In Good Health if the patient has reached their limit of 10 ounces of marijuana per 60 days.
Financial projections the non-profit In Good Health made in its state application for a medical marijuana dispensary in Brockton
$1,575,000: first-year medical marijuana sales
$20,000: first-year supplies sales, such as vaporizers
$766,000: first-year total salaries
$1,268,000 first-year total expenses, not including any applicable taxes
$33,000: estimated first-year operating loss
David Noble, a former nursing home operator who is president of In Good Health, said he expects to serve about 20 patients at any time, with several in the waiting room and others reviewing an array of marijuana buds, oils, edibles and devices available for purchase.
The operation will eventually cultivate as many as 2,000 plants at any one time, and employ about 30 people. Noble has already reached a deal with the city, to provide $100,000 during the first year, and possibly more after that, depending on revenue.
In Good Health received its license from the Department of Public Health in late April. It is one of several dispensaries opening throughout the state, including one being planned for Taunton. Before it opens, the dispensary must have its patient education materials reviewed and its products tested.
The hours of operation are planned as 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Saturday and Sunday.
Once in operation, DPH officials will visit twice per month, once announced and once unannounced. In Good Health, as a nonprofit, has a board of directors and can pay its employees and provide bonuses, but does not have an ownership group that collects profits.
Noble was wary about sharing too much financial and security information, but did say that the organization spent more than $1 million upgrading the rear of the warehouse at 1200 West Chestnut St. In Good Health contracted with local companies to do the work, such as Stadelmann Electrical and Hawkeye Fence.
There is no public bathroom, to avoid patients consuming marijuana on premises, and workers wear jumpsuits without any pockets to discourage any theft of product. Most of the facility is employee-only space – for trimming plants, cloning seeds and office space for an accountant or two.
The growing area itself, featuring four “flowering” rooms, contains more LED lights than any other medical marijuana facility in the United States, Noble said.
Inside a brand-new commercial kitchen, a baker experienced in making marijuana food items will create “edibles,” such as cookies, brownies and cakes, ensuring that each item gets an even amount of THC, the primary intoxicant in marijuana. In Good Health has contracted with food distributor Sysco to get quality ingredients, Noble said.Another cook will oversee a process by which oil from marijuana is extracted to make the food. Everything, food included, ends up in a child-proof container before it leaves the dispensary.
A state-of-the-art air filtration system means the inside of the facility does not smell overwhelmingly like marijuana, and there is no scent outside. Noble said one neighbor, Brockton Area Arc, plans to provide disabled workers to help In Good Health affix labeling to packages – before they are filled with products.
Last week, the dispensary was in the beginning stages of growing 32 different strains of marijuana, though not all are expected to survive. Their seeds come from “legitimate” operations outside Massachusetts, but within the United States, Noble said.
Once harvested, a row of pots is re-planted. The facility will see about five harvests per year, Noble said, operating “like a manufacturing plant.”
The used soil and other organic material will be turned into compost and hauled north, where the remnants of a high-technology process return to the land, at the Franklin Park Zoo.
VIA Enterprise News
Question 3 seeks to legalize medical marijuana
BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER The Salem News
Advocates say the ballot initiative is aimed at granting legal access to a marijuana in a safe and secure manner, so that patients with chronic pain or other illnesses can benefit from its use and not suffer the stigma of feeling like criminals.
Some in law enforcement and drug prevention are concerned that the initiative would provide a backdoor supply from the dispensaries, bolster use and dependency among young people, and increase crime associated with marijuana trafficking.
“The issue is very important from a public health standpoint,” said Peg Sallade, coordinator for the DanversCares prevention coalition. As a public employee, she cannot advocate for or against Question 3, but she said she is allowed to educate the public.
One of the concerns is that if Question 3 passes, young people may no longer perceive marijuana as an illegal drug.
“When we call an illegal drug a medicine, it creates a false impression among young people it’s safe to use,” Sallade said.
Even if the state ballot measure passes, however, the federal government still considers marijuana illegal.
“Regardless of state laws to the contrary,” according to the website for the Marijuana Resource Center of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, “there is no such thing as ‘medical’ marijuana under federal law. Marijuana continues to be a Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett is strongly opposed to Question 3.
“Until the American Medical Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society supports smoked marijuana as a legitimate medical remedy, and it receives FDA approval like all other medications, it is my opinion that the medical marijuana ballot initiative is nothing less than an effort to legalize a potentially dangerous and addictive drug,” Blodgett said through spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan.
Put forward by the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, Question 3 aims to remove punishment under state law for “patients, physicians and health care professionals, personal caregivers for patients, or medical marijuana treatment center agents for the medical use of marijuana.”
Marijuana would be recommended for those with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis “and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”
“Who determines who has a medical condition?” asked Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette, who said his research into medical marijuana in other states found that the most prevalent use for it is to treat back pain.
“I have seen what substance abuse has done in a community, and it’s a dangerous road to go down,” said Ouellette, who said that as a public official he can speak “from a public policy perspective.”
However, proponents say the measure carries numerous safeguards, given the lessons learned in the 17 other states where medicinal marijuana has been legalized, said Jennifer Manley, spokeswoman for the Committee for Compassionate Medicine.
In the states where medical marijuana ran into problems, states did not repeal their laws but instead attempted to fix the system, said Whitney Taylor of the Committee for Compassionate Medicine.
Under the proposal, patients and physicians would have to register with the state. Dispensary agents and caregivers must be at least 21. Dispensary agents could not be convicted drug felons. Marijuana cultivation and storage must take place in locked, secured facilities.
Patients and physicians would also have to prove an authentic doctor-patient relationship, and there would be limits on how much supply — 60 days — a person could obtain.
Statewide, the number of medical marijuana treatment centers would be capped at 35, and no more than five would be allowed to operate in any one county. To deter someone from defrauding the system, the law also creates a new misdemeanor and a new felony, punishable with up to five years in prison for distribution, sale or trafficking, Manley said.
Former state Trooper Karen Hawkes, 45, of Rowley said she uses marijuana so she can lead a normal life free of pain after she suffered a stroke in 2005. Traditional medicines left her feeling tired, confused and living like a zombie for years.
“I was in a fog, and I was not there for my kids,” Hawkes said.
At the time of Hawkes’ stroke, her children were 3 and 4 years old. She tried a list of pharmaceuticals “as long as your arm,” but the side effects were worse than the pain, she said.
Hawkes wrestled with the ethical qualm of taking medical marijuana and searched for a legal pharmaceutical. She said the initiative would create regulations around its use as a treatment, making medical marijuana much safer.
Hawkes will not say where she obtains her cannabis, but she administers it using vaporizers or tinctures, the latter being alcohol extractions, rather than smoking it.
Ouellette points out that there is a drug called Marinol that has a synthetic form of THC, but Taylor said that THC is one of the most “psychoactive” components of marijuana, and it does not work for everyone.
Hawkes said she benefits from the various components of marijuana, not just from THC.
State's marijuana law not paying off
POLICE: COLLECTING FINES NOT SO EASY
Maybe the cops will finally get our message: WE ARE DONE WITH PROHIBITION. Decrim and prohibition do not work. THERE IS NO MORE MARIJUANA MONEY FOR YOU COPS! GO FIND RAPISTS, GANG MEMBERS AND THIEVES! -UA
The money is actually in the form of 126 unpaid citations levied on people fined for being caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. Two of the citations were written by state police, with Leicester officers issuing the other 124.
Ever since voters passed a referendum in 2008 that made possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense, police continue to complain about the law not having enough teeth to enforce it and collect the fines.
“We’ve lost money on every single one of those citations,” Leicester Police Chief James J. Hurley said of the stack of unpaid citations. “One of the things that the Question Two proponents were selling at the time was that this was going to bring money into the towns.”
The ballot measure, passed in November 2008 does not force offenders to identify themselves to police, nor does it enforce a way to pay fines. Officials say it leaves them without any way to collect the $100 citations. Printing and processing the citations comes at a cost upfront, Chief Hurley said. His department has laid off eight part-time officers, returned software and gotten rid of a leased motorcycle for patrol. He just took a 2 percent budget cut. The citation money could have helped, he said.
It may be funny when voters write-in Mickey Mouse and Superman for town moderator. It is less so when those are the kind of names people give police.
“Joe Blow, Yogi Bear, there are a number of different names chiefs have citations written out for,” Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association executive director A. Wayne Sampson said. “I heard chiefs complaining they weren’t getting any results, especially when they knew somebody gave them a false name.”
Citations obtained from the city of Worcester show 58 were issued from Sept. 11, 2009, to March 3, 2011. A total of 37 people had paid the fines.
The statistics show state police issued the majority of the citations in the city, with 36. Worcester State University Police follow next with 13, and Worcester Police have issued 8. One citation did not have an agency listed.
Several departments say they don’t see a lot of fake names. Officers tend to know people in town. The biggest problem is collecting the cash.
“There is no mechanism in place for collecting the fine,” Worcester Police spokesman Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst said. “That is where the problem lies. It is hard to enforce when there are loopholes in the law that hinders collection of the fines.”
Dudley police have issued 22 citations from Dec. 1, 2010, to June 16, 2011, and so far 14 have been paid. With police department budgets tight across the state, any extra cash is needed, especially when the person was cited for the violation, Dudley Police Chief Steven J. Wojnar said.
Fines for not paying for a dog license could end up in court, and someone could have a warrant issued for nonpayment, the chief noted. It is not the case for the marijuana citation.
“It would have been better if the law was stepped back and the kinks worked out,” Chief Wojnar said.
Having people deny identifying themselves to police is hard to believe for lawyer Steven Epstein, spokesman for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. Police carry a badge, baton and gun, and most people aren’t going to say no, he said.
“Someone who has that equipment on is going to get your name,” he said. “Will some people be sharp enough to give a fake name? Sure.”
In some cases, someone carrying less than an ounce of pot are committing some other crime or driving offense. In those instances, police can retrieve the person’s name anyway.
Getting people to pay the fines is simple, Mr. Epstein said; just take them to small claims court.
With most civil citations, such as speeding tickets or parking violations, police can levy criminal charges or driver’s licenses and car registrations cannot be renewed. That isn’t an option for the marijuana citation.
There is a price that comes with taking someone to small claims court. Add the cost of having an officer in the court for the case, and municipalities will pay more than what they get back in the $100 citation, police said.
Chief Hurley said his department is working with Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield to see if an exemption stipulation applies to the town.
There is a bill filed with the state Senate involving the decriminalization of minor offenses that would allow police to better enforce the marijuana citations, said Mr. Sampson. The police chiefs group has supportedthe bill, which has received backing from multiple state legislators.
The bill was not proposed solely because of the marijuana citations, but was filed more for civil infractions, and lessening overcrowding and court costs statewide.
Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, a backer of the bill, which will be heard Wednesday by the the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, said the bill would give officers the discretion on minor offenses to chose between issuing a civil infraction, or using court action.
The bill would save communities money, as well as the state. It costs money for prosecutors and state-appointed attorneys when someone is brought to court, he said. Court staff also has to process the case.
Chief Hurley doesn’t believe voters understood all the nuances of the referendum before it passed.
“I can’t believe voters knew they were getting into this quagmire,” he said. “It you’re going to pass a law and ask law enforcement agencies to enforce it, then make the law enforceable.”