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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Mass. awards first medical marijuana dispensary licenses

After much anticipation, state health officials Friday revealed the names of the companies that will receive the first 20 licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts, although it will likely be summertime before any open their doors for business.

Voters in November 2012 approved a ballot initiative that legalized marijuana for medical treatment, and the voter-approved law allowed the state health department to select up to 35 non-profit companies across the state to open dispensaries, with at least one but no more than five per county.

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But the state Friday chose to approve just 20, spread across 10 of Massachusetts’ 14 counties. Left out were Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes and Nantucket counties, which did not receive a dispensary in this initial round.

“Eight highly qualified applicants who were not granted their proposed location will be invited to seek a change of location to a county without provisional approval for a Registered Marijuana Dispensary,” the state health department said in a statement. “This phase will allow the Selection Committee to review high-scoring applicants who wish to seek a change of location to an underserved county to maximize patient access.”

Karen van Unen, director of the state’s new medical marijuana program, said in a press conference that her agency expects in the next few weeks to launch an “abbreviated” review process for these eight applicants and announce the results in early June. She declined to say why the eight applicants, some of whom received higher scores from the expert review panel than companies awarded licenses, were not selected in the first round. But she said she expected the eight to fare better in the coming months because they already “have the nod” from her department.

“Most likely between now and August we will be opening up maybe 24 to 26 dispensaries,” van Unen said.

Among the companies invited to reapply for a license in one of the four counties that were left out in Friday’s selection is Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, Inc.

The company was turned down for its Salem application but was awarded licenses for a location in Boston’s Back Bay and in Worcester.

Jaime Lewis, Good Chemistry’s chief operating officer, said state officials did not indicate to Good Chemistry why a competitor—Alternative Therapies Group, Inc.—won the Salem license.

“I could only imagine that they [the state] made the best decision possible for whatever reason,” she said. “The competing company must have been the better candidate.”

Lewis said Good Chemistry will re-apply for a third dispensary license, but “we haven’t even had a chance to think about where.”

Meanwhile, Lewis said the company hopes to open their two other dispensaries—located at 364-368 Boylston St. in Boston and 9 Harrison St. in Worcester—within the next 8 months. The company’s facility to grow the marijuana is slated to be located at 9 Pullman St. in Worcester.

Leaders of Green Heart Holistic Health, who were awarded one of the two prized Boston dispensary licenses, said they hope to open their 3,000-square-foot dispensary across from Boston University Medical Center by late summer.

Andrew DeAngelo, executive director of Green Heart Holistic, said company officials are finalizing plans for their cultivation site in Amesbury.

The dispensary, which will be located at 70 Southampton St., will feature smokeable flowers as well as edibles, capsules, and tinctures - or drinkable liquid drops, DeAngelo said. The company will grow strains of marijuana with THC, as well as CBD strains, which would help patients with MS and epilepsy, DeAngelo said.

Also among those who received good news was former US representative William D. Delahunt, who successfully won all three of the licenses he sought to open dispensaries in Mashpee, Taunton and Plymouth. Delahunt, who represented Cape Cod and much of the South Shore for 14 years, is part of a company called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts.

Competition was fierce, with 159 applications submitted last fall. State officials pared that down to 100 in November, which left 80 companies in the running, because several had submitted applications for multiple sites.

State officials scrutinized applicants’ proposals for a wide variety of factors, including business plans, finances, background of their chief executives, operations plans, and whether they had support from local leaders in the communities where they proposed to open their dispensaries and their facilities to grow marijuana.

Often companies proposed separate sites for each, and the state’s scoring system awarded the most points for issues involving the siting of the facilities, such as whether a company has the support of local officials in the communities where the facilities are proposed, and whether they have secured leases or purchased buildings for their places of business. The companies were also asked to provide detailed information about their proposed security plans and how those plans would “help deter and prevent unauthorized entrance.”

The companies awarded licenses will still have to pass a final inspection by the state health department and ensure they are complying with any local permitting requirements before they are allowed to open.

While the launch of dispensaries has been eagerly awaited by some, others are raising concerns about patient safety.

Dr. Ronald Dunlap, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said there is a lack of scientific information about the safety of marijuana when used for medicinal purposes, and he noted that the marijuana does not undergo the rigorous testing required for prescription medications by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Claims for its effectiveness have not been scientifically proven,” Dunlap said in a statement. “It poses health risks of toxins and cognitive impairment, the last condition being especially risky for young patients.”

In Amesbury, residents have expressed mixed feelings about two dispensaries hoping to grow their medical marijuana there, but local officials said they are starting to see the potential revenue benefits, said Councilor-At-Large Donna McClure.

Instead of fighting a “losing battle” with the state to keep the companies out, McClure said the mayor’s office is negotiating with Green Heart Holistic Health and Alternative Therapies Group on their grow sites to see what the companies can give back to the city. Alternative Therapies won a license for a Salem dispensary, while Green Heart was awarded one for Boston.

“Our taxpayers have been long overburdened,” McClure said by phone. “We didn’t recruit these businesses, but they represent opportunities for both long- and short-term revenue growth.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar. Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com
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