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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

158 applicants to vie for 35 marijuana licenses

The vast majority of applicants competing to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts will continue on to the final round of consideration, when the state will grant 35 licenses, health authorities said Monday.

State officials said 158 of the 181 applications made the first cut in what turned out to be a more competitive process than authorities had imagined.

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“We had underestimated the number who would apply and would have the capacity to do this,” said the public health commissioner, Cheryl Bartlett.

The initial review examined whether applicants had the required start-up capital of at least $500,000 and were nonprofits. It also required that applicants and members of their proposed companies be free of felony drug convictions.

In some cases, a single applicant sought licenses for several locations. Twenty-two applicants did not meet the criteria and one applicant withdrew.

Applicants were denied for several reasons, including lack of finances or failing to incorporate as a nonprofit. Bartlett declined to address specifics.

Among those rejected was Michael Weisser, a Miami businessman who said he owns eight dispensaries in Colorado and is preparing to open one in New Jersey. Weisser said he started in the business four years ago and is donating profits to help children with cancer, in honor of his wife, who died of pancreatic cancer.

“We run a model operation both in Jersey and in Colorado, so it’s pretty surprising to me that we would be rejected,” Weisser said.

The news was better for Catherine Cametti, a real estate appraiser and Norwood native whose application was approved. She is still deciding on a location but is hoping to open in Franklin.

Franklin officials this year approved zoning amendments that would allow dispensaries, unlike other communities that have adopted moratoriums. The state attorney general’s office struck down such moratoriums, ruling that towns can regulate but not prohibit the centers.

State officials said a selection committee that has not yet been appointed will evaluate and score applicants in the final round, based on factors that include the ability to meet the health needs of registered patients, appropriateness of the site, geographic distribution of dispensaries, local support, and ensuring public safety.

Voters last fall approved a ballot initiative that allows health officials to register up to 35 nonprofit marijuana dispensaries in the first year, with at least one but no more than five dispensaries per county.

Bartlett has not revealed a timetable for selecting 35 finalists, but she said she anticipates completing that process by early next year, with the first doors opening several months later.

“Whatever date we announce, at minimum it’s 120 days, at best, for a dispensary to get up and running and be operational,” she said.

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

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