ABOVE: Disabled US Army combat veteran Scott Murphy, who uses marijuana to settle chronic pain, speaks to reporters outside of the Department of Public Health in Downtown Crossing Friday. Picture by Chris Faraone.
The only thing more exhausting than navigating the Massachusetts medical weed gauntlet is doing it with the activated peanut butter cups going around Dig headquarters. Nevertheless, we were up early Friday for the announcement of which dispensary applicants were given the green-light by state officials. I personally strapped on a necktie in anticipation of a Department of Public Health press conference, but was told upon arrival it was by telephone only, and I’d shown up at their Downtown Crossing office for no reason. My aim was to write about being the sole stoned reporter on hand, which wound up being true, but only because I was the only schmuck there.
Fortunately, I made it back into the office in time for the phone presser, in which journalists from all around the commonwealth pitched questions at an informative and forthright group of DPH delegates. Not long after that, I returned to Downtown Crossing for a media availability arranged by the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance and other like-minded organizations. Speaking with experts and pot patients there, plus listening to state officials lay out the immediate and long roads ahead for medicinal cannabis, I’ve harvested a few informational nuggets that might help people understand how the dispensary process will proceed.
The law approved by voters in November 2012 allows for 35 dispensaries across the commonwealth in the first year. After extensively vetting 100 applications and instituting an organizational process over the past year, on Friday the state’s Registered Marijuana Dispensary Selection Committee picked 20 qualified outfits to be opened in all but four counties (better luck next round to Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes, and Nantucket). Two of those dispensaries will be in Boston, while Quincy, Brookline, Cambridge, and Newton will have one apiece for now. The Greater Boston pot spots are as follows:
Garden Remedies, Inc.
697 Washington Street, Newtonville
The Greeneway Wellness Foundation, Inc.
11 First Street, Cambridge
New England Treatment Access, Inc.
1416-18-20 Beacon Street, Brookline
216 Ricciuti Drive, Quincy
Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, Inc.
364-368 Boylston Street, Boston
Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
70 Southampton Street, Boston
By their account, the aforementioned selection squad employed “objective scoring guided by state procurement principles” in order to weed out the less qualified contenders. That included running “extensive background checks,” and considering factors such as the likelihood of success that a dispensary would have in a particular community, plus “appropriateness of the site … and the applicant’s ability to meet the overall health needs of registered patients while ensuring public safety.”
Some news outlets have implied there was political corruption afoot since former Congressman Bill Delahunt’s business group, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts Inc., secured three licenses total–more than any other entity – for dispensaries in Mashpee, Taunton, and Plymouth. On the Friday press call, a reporter from the Herald tried cornering Walpole Police Deputy Chief John Carmichael, who served on the seven-person DPH review board, only for Carmichael to push back by asserting the process was entirely rooted in gauging measures like security and local support, with “the political aspect completely taken out.”
From what we’ve seen and observed so far, the DPH does appear to have acted competently, and the review ordeal does seem to have been “highly competitive,” as officials reported. In the very least, the department deserves credit for its crystal clear transparency–everyone is free to examine all the applications online–as well as for proactively channeling public input. Speaking with members of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance on Friday, that appears to be true rather than just a line served by state administrators.
Technically, the 20 licenses handed out Friday grant “provisional approval.” That’s really a formality, but according to DPH spokespeople, we’re still in the “beginning” of the registration process. Up next, the approved parties will embark on an uncharted journey of securing local permits, and of adhering to whatever protocols and security measures go along with those. Then they can win provisional certification, and then they can start dispensing.
All of the approved facilities will maintain “seed-to-sale control of the business.” That means they grow, cook, cultivate, and retail marijuana–in more forms than you can imagine, from buds to breath mints–all out of the same place, and are not allowed to buy from outside suppliers.
THE ROAD MAP
Asked if and when they will allow up to 35 (or more) dispensaries across the state as the law permits, DPH officials said it’s important to remember how much work it’s going to be getting 24 to 26 of them up-and-running between now and August, as they’re hoping to accomplish. In addition to the 20 that were waved through so far, the state asked eight rejected applicants who were nonetheless “highly qualified” to re-apply for licenses in one of the four counties with no currentl viable prospects.
DPH spokespeople are adamant about getting a web-based certification system running soon. This will help the state track supply and demand, as well as where patients are getting marijuana. From there, planners can better determine where future licenses should go. Furthermore, law enforcement will have limited access to the system in order to verify a patient’s status in a situation where their holding weed comes into question.
The state not only supports home delivery, but has enthusiastically urged providers to include convenience plans in their proposals and arrangements. In order to facilitate easy access to these resources, the commonwealth’s online system will be tooled to connect patients with caregivers.
STAY BLUNTED: In the following weeks, Blunt Truth will deliver even more marijuana news than usual including interviews with burgeoning Bay State dispensary operators and more nuggets on everything from strains to access.