By Kay Lazar and Shelley Murphy
US Drug Enforcement Administration investigators have visited the homes and offices of Massachusetts physicians involved with medical marijuana dispensaries and delivered an ultimatum: sever all ties to marijuana companies, or relinquish federal licenses to prescribe certain medications, according to several physicians and their attorneys.
The stark choice is necessary, the doctors said they were told, because of friction between federal law, which bans any use of marijuana, and state law, which voters changed in 2012 to allow medical use of the drug.
The DEA’s action has left some doctors, whose livelihoods depend on being able to offer patients pain medications and other drugs, with little option but to resign from the marijuana companies,where some held prominent positions.
The Globe this week identified at least three doctors contacted by DEA investigators, although there may be more.
“Here are your options,” Dr. Samuel Mazza said he was told by Gregory Kelly, a DEA investigator from the agency’s New England Division office. “You either give up your [DEA] license or give up your position on the board . . . or you challenge it in court.”
Mazza, chief executive of Debilitating Medical Conditions Treatment Centers, which won preliminary state approval to open a dispensary in Holyoke, said the DEA investigator’s visit came shortly after state regulators announced the first 20 applicants approved for provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Mazza said he returned from vacation in February to find a DEA business card on the door to his home and several messages on his answering machine urging him to contact the agency immediately.
The quiet DEA crackdown comes even as the US House of Representatives approved a measure last week that would restrict the DEA from raiding medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal. Senate action is pending.
Tensions between federal and state officials have flared as 22 states, including Massachusetts, have legalized medical marijuana, many since 2010.
A spokesman for the DEA in Boston on Wednesday referred calls to agency headquarters in Washington.
A DEA spokeswoman in Washington declined to answer questions Thursday about the doctors’ assertions that they are being asked to choose between their drug prescribing licenses and their ties to dispensaries. The spokeswoman would not say whether the action in Massachusetts is part of a national policy or limited to the state.
Physicians, dentists, and other health care providers who prescribe or administer narcotics and other controlled substances are required to register with the DEA, which tracks use of the drugs and strips federal licenses of those who fraudulently prescribe the medications.
At least two physicians resigned their medical officer positions with planned medical marijuana dispensaries in the past two weeks after visits from the DEA, including Dr. Carl Fulwiler.
The psychiatrist was part of the executive management team of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, which was granted preliminary approval for a dispensary in Dennis, and resigned his position last week, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. Fulwiler did not return calls seeking comment.
Another physician who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal said two DEA investigators arrived unannounced at his office last month.
“DEA agents can be quite direct when they want to make an impression on you,” the doctor said.
“My terrified secretary asked what to do with them, and I said I’d see them in five minutes after I finished what I was engaged in,” the physician said.
During a polite, 15-minute conversation, one of the officials asked “probing” questions about the dispensary’s proposed operations, while the other furiously took notes, the doctor said.
“The gist was to get me to either relinquish the DEA license, if I insisted on continuing with the dispensary, or give the license up ‘temporarily’ while involved with the dispensary,” he said.
The investigator told the physician that if he gave up his DEA license, he could later apply to have the license reinstated if he no longer was involved with the dispensary. But, the doctor recalled, the investigator said there was no guarantee the license would be restored.
Otherwise, the investigator explained, the doctor could divorce himself from any association with the dispensary.
“I had no choice but to choose the last option,” said the physician, who resigned his position at the dispensary.
Valerio Romano, a Boston attorney who represents several dispensaries, said the DEA’s action may further delay dispensaries from opening.
When state regulators selected companies in January for provisional licenses, they said they expected most would open by this summer. But since then, problems have surfaced, including misrepresentations and conflicts of interest involving several of the companies. State officials have acknowledged they did not check the veracity of the companies’ statements in their applications.
State regulators say they are now conducting extensive background checks of dispensary applicants, and Romano said those checks may be prolonged now that some dispensary companies will be searching for new medical officers to fill positions vacated by physicians who recently resigned.
“In the end, what all of this means is more delay for patients,” Romano said.
Dave Kibbe, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, which issues dispensary licenses, said in a statement Thursday that the companies are not required to have medical personnel on their management teams, and that the doctors’ resignations would not cause delays in the state program. But Kibbe said the departures may cause delays for individual dispensaries.
“When registered marijuana dispensaries experience changes in leadership, they are required to notify [the health department],” he said. “Any new [dispensary] personnel must go through a comprehensive background check as part of the department’s standard process.”
Dr. Walter Panis, chief medical officer for Alternative Therapies Group, which was granted preliminary approval by state health officials to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Salem, said he has not been contacted by the DEA, but expressed concern after learning other doctors had been given an ultimatum.
“The dispensaries need good medical information and how else are they going to get it except through physicians that are able to give that information?” said Panis, whose role in the dispensary will be to educate staff about medical marijuana and patient treatment.
Panis, a neurologist, said he needs his DEA license to prescribe certain medications. He said he would consult a lawyer if given an ultimatum by the DEA, but would probably withdraw from the dispensary if forced to make a choice.
“I’d probably resign, but I don’t want to do that,” Panis said. “I wouldn’t want to jeopardize my ability to practice medicine. Practicing medicine is the soul of my life.”
Mazza, the physician associated with the Holyoke dispensary, said that when he returned the DEA’s urgent messages in February, he was put on a speaker phone with three DEA officials.
“You are chairman of an organization that is going to distribute a product that is against federal law,” Mazza said the DEA officials told him.
The DEA investigators were “quite congenial” but adamant, according to Mazza, that he couldn’t keep his DEA license to prescribe controlled substances if he maintained his position at the dispensary.
Even though Mazza has held his DEA license for 40 years, he said it was easier to surrender it than to engage in a legal battle. Mazza, who works part-time for the federal government, performing surgeries at the VA Medical Center in Northampton, said he doesn’t need the DEA license for that job.
“It was easy for me because I really didn’t need the license anymore,” Mazza said. “If I did need the license and was still in private practice as a general surgeon, I’m not sure what I would have done. I probably would have relinquished my position as CEO [of the dispensary].”
Via The Boston Globe
But niche marketing approach raises concerns
The waiting room of Integr8, a new type of medical practice that opened in a Burlington office building last October, was crowded with patients. One leaned on a walker, another gripped a plastic grocery bag filled with pill bottles. There were twentysomethings and senior citizens.
Many were drawn there by the same thing: medical marijuana.
With names such as CannaMed and Delta 9 Medical Consulting, a dozen physicians offices have opened across Massachusetts in recent months to evaluate patients to use marijuana.
Many envisioned that most patients would consult with their regular doctor to decide whether they could benefit from the drug to treat a debilitating condition. Instead, the 2012 referendum that legalized medical marijuana is giving rise to a new niche — psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, obstetrician-gynecologists, internists, and pain specialists turned medical marijuana specialists.
Even though medical marijuana dispensaries are not expected to open for months, these doctors have already “certified’’ hundreds of patients to grow or buy the drug. CannaMed, a California company that now has a Framingham branch, has approved 1,000 patients, its lawyer said.
The state’s largest doctors organization is critical of many of the new practices. Dr. Ronald Dunlap, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, questioned whether doctors should be allowed to set up practices that provide access to one particular drug, which he says can create a conflict of interest for the physicians and may not be in the best interest of patients.
“The commercial part of this is way ahead of the curve,’’ he said. “They rented office space before the regulations were even approved.’’
These practices are flourishing in part because mainstream physicians are often reluctant to certify chronically ill patients who want to use marijuana. Many doctors do not believe medical marijuana is supported by science — or are waiting for their employers to develop policies. Until they approve guidelines, most hospitals and large doctors’ groups are leaving the decision up to individual doctors, but a few, including Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, have told physicians not to certify patients for now.
Physicians who do decide to approve patients will have to take courses on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.
Doctors opening the marijuana practices also sense a business opportunity. The 20 dispensaries with provisional approval to sell medical marijuana estimate they will serve 36,000 customers.
Patients, many suffering from pain that they say has not responded to conventional treatment, pay doctors $200 to $250 for an initial evaluation and a certification that will protect them legally if they are caught with the drug. And the physicians do not have to deal with insurance companies, which do not cover the visits.
Some doctors also sell hand-held vaporizers, cultivation books, and other products. In addition to marijuana certification, Integr8 provides a wide array of alternative pain treatments such as “Chinese cupping,” acupuncture, and osteopathic manipulation.
On a recent Friday, Nancy Nangeroni, 60, arrived for an appointment at Integr8 with Dr. Joey Rottman, a former obstetrician-gynecologist who now specializes in pain management. Nangeroni has suffered from disabling neck, shoulder, and back pain since a 2004 car accident. Rottman asked for her medical records, and she handed him a thick yellow folder.
State law requires that doctors who certify patients have a “bona fide physician-patient relationship,’’ including seeing patients in the office, assessing their medical history, explaining the benefits and risks of marijuana, and being involved in their ongoing care. Integr8 and many of the other Massachusetts practices warn patients on websites that they must provide medical records, documenting their condition, before they can be certified.
Rottman glanced at Nangeroni’s records, and asked questions about her pain. She told him only three things help: physical therapy, marijuana, and limiting her activities. Nangeroni has bought the drug illegally, but said she does not want to continue supporting an unregulated industry.
Until the dispensaries open, certified patients can grow their own marijuana or obtain it from a “personal caregiver” — a hospice provider, visiting nurse, or other assistant who has agreed to help the patient use medical marijuana. Caregivers will eventually have to register with the state.
During the visit, Rottman said Nangeroni had not been smoking marijuana correctly. “So we’re going to change the way you do this,’’ he explained. If she feels “a buzz,’’ he said, that means she’s smoked about twice as much as medically needed. “With marijuana, less is more.’’
Rottman sold Nangeroni an emerald green pocket device for $234 used to inhale marijuana vapor, which he said is odorless and less toxic than smoke. He then promised to send a summary of her 45-minute visit to Nangeroni’s primary care doctor with Lahey Clinic, who Nangeroni said supports her use of medical marijuana but does not plan to provide certifications yet.
Integr8 Massachusetts, a franchise of Integr8 Health in Maine, is owned by psychiatrist Dr. Thor Agustsson, whose practice has certified “hundreds” of patients so far. Agustsson said his goal is to wean patients off addictive narcotics, which make them drowsy and require escalating doses to control pain. “We see results that are amazing,’’ Rottman said.
Dr. Harold Altvater, a former hospital anesthesiologist, used $20,000 in savings to open a solo practice for certifying patients to use medical marijuana in February 2013. Dentists, physical therapists, and a dialysis center are his neighbors in the two red-brick medical office buildings he works out of in Malden and Methuen. He has given talks to pain management doctors and sent out brochures to generate referrals, resulting in 350 certified patients so far.
They include a 47-year-old businessman who came in on a recent Friday with chronic muscle and joint pain that has grown intolerable over the last year. His primary care doctor and several specialists have not been able to identify the cause, he said, but one prescribed a narcotic-like pain reliever that caused serious side effects.
“The problem is that the pain never ends, it’s just 24/7,’’ said the businessman, who did not want to be identified because he’s worried about hurting his career.
His doctor, who works for Partners HealthCare, told him he was not opposed to medical marijuana but that “he wasn’t going to get involved in it.’’ After a two-hour visit, Altvater certified him to use medical marijuana — at a cost of $250 — though the businessman said he will wait until dispensaries open rather than grow marijuana or buy it illegally.
“If I get caught, it’s kind of the end of my career,’’ he said.
In states with years of experience with medical marijuana, officials have questioned whether some doctors are running certification mills. A June 2013 report from the Office of the State Auditor in Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, found “evidence suggesting that some physicians may be making inappropriate recommendations.”
One piece of evidence: Just 12 physicians had certified half of the 108,000 registered patients, and one had registered more than 8,400 — numbers so high they call into question the existence of a “bona fide relationship,’’ the report said.
Many physician websites in Colorado advertise convenient service, such as walk-in and weekend hours, suggesting the evaluations might not be objective, auditors found. Another question is how many patients are turned away; if almost every patient walks out with a certification, that’s a red flag.
Altvater said he rejects about 50 percent of potential patients during an initial telephone screening because they do not have the proper medical records or are otherwise unqualified. “I am contacted regularly by law enforcement’’ looking to confirm that a person arrested for possessing marijuana actually qualifies for medical use, he said. “You really want an evaluation that is bullet proof.’’
State public health officials said they are developing an online registration system that will monitor doctors who certify patients; anyone suspected of improper conduct will be referred to the Board of Registration in Medicine, officials said. And, they said, they are “working closely with all the facilities’’ to make sure they’re operating legally.
Still, Dunlap, the medical society president, questions the appropriateness of these practices. “You can’t have a clinic that just gives out one substance. I can’t open an oxycodone or a Percocet clinic. That is not medicine, then you are an access point for a specific substance.’’
Dunlap said a full-service pain clinic would be a more appropriate place for patients to get certified. Then, if a patient was not a good candidate for marijuana, doctors could offer other therapies or drugs.
Matthew Allen, head of a medical marijuana advocacy group, said his organization pushed for regulations that allow patients to get certified by a doctor other than their regular physician. “We don’t want any barriers,’’ he said. “Our hope is that medical marijuana will be pulled within the folds of existing medical institutions. That is a long-term process and will take a lot of education.’’
Via The Boston Globe
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.
By Stephanie Barry
SPRINGFIELD - The public is warming to the idea of medical marijuana dispensaries as the state's final deadline for applicants nears, according to a new survey by the Western New England University Polling Institute.
A statewide telephone survey of 517 adults conducted earlier this month found that 74 percent support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, while 21 percent oppose the policy and another 5 percent were undecided. Meanwhile, 61 percent of adults said they would support a dispensary in their community; 30 percent said they would be opposed and 9 percent were undecided or declined to answer.
Approval to introduce medical marijuana shops came through a ballot measure in the 2012 general election. The initiative won approval from voters 63 to 37 percent.
The polling institute showed support for the practice has grown significantly since the last time it posed the question to voters - just before the 2012 ballot question. That survey showed 63 percent supported the policy, with 29 percent in opposition.
"The survey data indicate that Massachusetts residents have embraced the concept of medical marijuana in increasing numbers," said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University.
The deadline to submit final applications is Nov. 21, and must be hand-delivered.
Vercellotti credited the state's public awareness campaign with growing support among the citizenry.
"As public awareness increases, support seems to go up as well. Public education may play an important role as state and local officials consider locations for the dispensaries."
Locally, several prominent members of the business and political landscape have emerged as contenders to open medical marijuana shops.
Heriberto Flores, president of the New England Farm Workers Council, who has significant real estate holdings downtown and elsewhere, has teamed up with former state Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees to form a nonprofit company called Debilitating Medical Treatment Centers. R. Lyman Wood, of Hampden, has pledged $500,000 to back the company if it wins a state license.
That company has already won preliminary approval from the state earlier this year along with 57 other applicants. The state requires that applicants are nonprofit organizations with broader human service missions and are well-capitalized.
Under the law, the state can license up to 35 dispensaries, including at least one but no more than five in each county.
Flores told a reporter this week that his company is moving forward but declined to say which community it intends to target.
"Full steam ahead," he told a reporter during a visit to the Statehouse.
Prospective applicants have bemoaned widespread moratoriums in cities and towns across the Pioneer Valley including in Springfield, Agawam, Longmeadow, Hadley, Hampden, Westfield, Hatfield, Palmer and and Williamsburg. And, local support is critical to applicants.
In Chicopee, officials passed an ordinance allowing medical marijuana shops but included tight zoning requirements. One applicant, Robert Carp of Baystate Alternative Health Care, said previously he toured the entire city and was unable to find a suitable building. However another applicant, Manuel Esteves, has a proposal under review by the City Council for a site at 658 Fuller Road.
Former state senator turned lobbyist Stephen J. Buoniconti, a clerk in C Care Inc., won preliminary approval from the state but said he and his partner are still mulling whether to go forward.
"The application is a behemoth, quite a few people may not go forward," Buoniconti said, citing concerns over the moratoriums, the need for major security details around the facilities required by the state and uncertainty about whether voters may legalize marijuana altogether through a 2016 ballot measure. "But some groups are forging ahead; we're still making that determination internally."
The polling institute results, however, found that respondents' attitudes toward legalizing marijuana altogether were tepid.
Forty-one percent of adults polled said they support full legalization, with 51 opposed and 8 percent undecided.
By Dan Ring
BOSTON -- A total of 22 applicants for medical marijuana dispensaries were eliminated on Monday from competition by the state Department of Public Health.
The process now leaves 158 applicants for dispensary licenses for medical marijuana, down from 181 initial applicants. In addition to the 22 eliminated by the state, one company withdrew.
A total of 22 applicants failed to pass a first phase of vetting by the state that looked at finances, nonprofit status, and possible criminal backgrounds of companies.
In a stiff financial hurdle, applicants needed to demonstrate they have at least $500,000 in liquid capital to pass the first phase.
In Western Massachusetts, one applicant failed to pass muster in Franklin County - Fotia's Inc., none were eliminated in Hampden County and one was cut out in Hampshire County, according to an updated list from the state.
That leaves five applicants in Franklin, 11 in Hampden and five in Hampshire. All cleared the first phase in Berkshire, which has three applicants for dispensary licenses.
“This is a very competitive process and we required applicants to meet high standards to advance,” said DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett in a conference call with reporters. "We are fortunate that Massachusetts has a large field of serious applicants, who are capable of making a significant investment to benefit qualified patients and safeguard communities."
Bartlett said she could not discuss specific applications, but she said applicants were denied mostly because of incomplete applications or a lack of sufficient capital.
Bartlett said final applications for dispensaries will be approved after the start of next year. Once a license is approved, it would take a minimum of 120 days for a dispensary to open.
Applicants are competing for as many as 35 dispensary licenses the state can issue under a ballot law for medical marijuana approved in November. Each county must have at least one dispensary, but not more than five.
If applicants passed the first phase, they are clear to proceed to a second phase, which requires a $30,000 nonrefundable application fee.
Robert Carp, president of Baystate Alternative Health Care, saw his phase one applications approved for Franklin and Hampden counties, but rejected for Hampshire County.
The applicant is unrelated to Baystate Health, the parent corporation of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, and Baystate Franklin County Medical Center in Greenfield.
Carp said he does not understand the reason his application was turned down in Hampshire. He said he met the capital requirements for all three applications.
Carp said he is confident in the strength of his applications and the people involved with his company, but he is unsure of the competition.
"It's very hard to determine what attributes another candidate brings to this without seeing their application," Carp said.
Applicants may face difficulties in winning approval of communities for dispensaries.
According to the State House News Service, about one third of the state's 351 cities and towns have approved at least temporary moratoriums on dispensaries including Palmer, Longmeadow, Springfield, Westfield, Hampden, Wilbraham, East Longmeadow, Hadley, Hatfield, Williamsburg, Chester, Egremont and Sheffield.
The state also approved an application by Debilitating Medical Condition Treatment Centers Inc., a group that includes former Senate Minority Leader and former Hampden Superior Court clerk Brian P. Lees and Springfield businessman Heriberto Flores. Former Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett is lawyer for the nonprofit organization, Flores said.
Flores, who is also president of the private, nonprofit New England Farm Workers Council, said that his medical-marijuana organization will seek to locate a dispensary in a Hampden county community that is not putting up a road block.
"We will submit a very competitive and top shelf program," Flores said, adding that his organization will include a first-rate provider with experience.
The state also gave the OK to the Hampshire application of Kind Medical Inc., which includes former Pittsfield state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo as clerk and Dr. Joseph P. Keenan of Westfield as president.
Nuciforo said he was confident moving forward. He said he was delighted with state approval of the first phase for his nonprofit organization.
"We continue to work in Hampshire county," he said on Monday. "We haven't located a specific property."
David A. Mech, a lawyer in Springfield and director of First Aid Inc., which also had a phase one application approved, said it would be great to have a dispensary in Springfield, but the city has a moratorium.
Mech said First Aid is looking in Western Massachusetts for a possible dispensary.
He said he believes that First Aid has a good shot at winning a license for a dispensary. "We're just looking forward to finding the right place and the community support," he said on Monday. "Wherever it makes sense is where we will put it."
Dispensaries must sell vaporizers, a delivery mechanism for medical marijuana that is seen as safer by many people than pipes or rolling papers. Vaporizers allow people to inhale the chemicals, but they don't produce more dangerous smoke.
Dispensaries can also sell edible forms of marijuana.
Under phase two, applicants must present locations for their proposed dispensaries and growing operations. They also have to demonstrate support from a community.
The dispensaries have to operate a "seed to sale" business. Dispensaries have to grow medical marijuana they offer for sale to people, who need a physician's approval. Customers also need to register with the state.
The 158 applicants who cleared phase one have been invited to apply for the second and final phase of the review process. An informational meeting for phase two applicants will be held Oct. 10 at 1 p.m. at the Holiday Inn, 30 Washington St. in Somerville. At the meeting, public health officials will take up questions on the application process.
Once phase two applications are in, a selection committee will evaluate and score them based on such factors as ability to meet the health needs of registered patients, appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of dispensaries, local support, and ensuring public safety.
Bartlett said the state does not have a deadline yet for submitting applications for the second phase.
She said full applications for phase one would be posted online by Tuesday.
Application forms for the first phase of bidding for dispensaries are available at www.comm-pass.com. Completed forms must delivered by hand to the department in Boston on Aug. 22, the department said in a release.
Backers of the law expect dozens of applicantsfor dispensaries and the first dispensary to open sometime next year. Each dispensary is expected to have a retail store and growing operation with security.
“The department has created a solid regulatory framework for this new industry, and now we are ready to move forward with the competitive application process,” Cheryl Bartlett, commissioner of the public health department, said in a statement. “We are committed to a fully transparent process that respects patient needs, while ensuring safe communities.”
After the Aug. 22 deadline has passed, DPH will post the list of applicants and proposed dispensary locations online at www.mass.gov/medicalmarijuana.
The program allows up to 35 non-profit dispensaries across the state, with at least one but no more than five in each county.
Matthew J. Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said he is pleased to see the department moving quickly to get dispensaries operating.
“In some other states the process has taken years, so the fact that DPH has started accepting applications just over two months after regulations went into effect demonstrates a commitment within the department to meeting patient needs," Allen said in a statement.
According to regulations approved by the state, dispensaries will have comprehensive security, strict restrictions on signs, bans on advertising and medical marijuana use on the premises, comprehensive security and seed-to-sale monitoring plans, the alliance said.
Under the first step of bidding, dispensary applicants will be reviewed for their finances and integrity. Applicants must report whether any member of their proposed organization has a felony drug conviction.
If applicants pass muster on the first step, they can move to the second step, when a panel will complete an in-depth review and select dispensaries through a competitive process.
The review panel will evaluate and score phase-two applications based on such factors as appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of dispensaries, local support, and the applicant’s ability to meet the overall health needs of registered patients, while ensuring public safety.
Prospective marijuana dispensaries will be required to pay a $1,500 fee for a first-phase application, and $30,000 for a second phase application. Both are nonrefundable.
Dispensaries that are selected will be required to pay a $50,000 annual registration fee. There will also be a $500 annual registration fee for each dispensary employee.
Other fees include a $50 annual fee for patient registration, a $100 fee for a hardship permit to grow marijuana at home and a $10 charge to replace a medical marijuana identification card. Caregivers must register, but they will not pay a fee.
The department will use the fees to meet the program’s operational needs, including hiring staff and training inspectors to monitor the industry. The department will also develop an online system for registering and auditing. Fees must cover operating costs for the medical marijuana program, approved at the ballot by 63 percent of voters last year.