With two dispensaries in business, a third set to open, and nine others in advanced stages of state approval, the medical marijuana industry is poised to blossom north of Boston.
Four years after it was legalized by voters, medical marijuana facilities remain relatively scarce in Massachusetts, with only 10 dispensaries are in operation.
But helped by an overhaul of the state licensure process last year, patients seeking access to the drug should soon find their options expanding.
On May 8, Healthy Pharms will open in Georgetown, the state’s 11th dispensary. The new facility will join the area’s two existing dispensaries, one operated by Alternative Therapies Group in Salem, and the other by Patriot Care Corp. in Lowell.
Concerns about crime the marijuana dispensaries might attract have proven unfounded, according to city officials in Lowell, Salem, and in Amesbury, where a grow facility is located.
Valerio Romano, the attorney representing Healthy Pharms, said the group is excited about its pending opening. The dispensary and the company’s cultivation facility — which also would supply a second dispensary the firm plans to open in Cambridge — are located in a former industrial building on Route 133 off Interstate 95.
“We are going to be the 11th one to open [in a state] with seven million people . . . We are going to be able to help a lot of sick people who are waiting for it.” Romano said.
Across Massachusetts, more than 90 proposed dispensaries have earned provisional licenses, including two proposed sites in three municipalities — Gloucester, Ipswich, and Somerville — and one site in Danvers, Merrimac, and Revere. Proposals for four other local dispensaries — in Burlington, Lynn, Methuen, and a potenial third dispensary in Somerville — have site plans under review by the state.
“Things are looking great,” said Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, who credits Governor Charlie Baker for the streamlined process that cleared the path for many news dispensaries to open.
“Every day we find new applications in the pipeline,” said Snow, adding that there are now dispensaries with provisional certification “from Pittsfield to Provincetown.” Several other dispensaries are poised to open in the coming months, according to Michael Latulippe, the alliance’s development director and like Snow, a Salem resident.
The surge in medical marijuana activity comes as the state is refining rules for the newly legalized recreational marijuana industry.
Snow said the two industries are distinct, since medical dispensaries offer a broader range of cannabis products to meet the specialized needs of patients. She said for that reason, she is not concerned retail sales will hurt the medical marijuana industry, though some dispensaries may opt — if allowed — to separately sell recreational marijuana at their sites.
There already are signs the emerging competition among dispensaries is lowering prices of medical marijuana, according to Snow. She said the going rate for an ounce has fallen from about $350 at the start of the year to $300 to $325 today.
Opened in February 2016, the Lowell dispensary is located in a former manufacturing building on East Industrial Avenue. The medical marijuana is cultivated in a separate building on Lincoln Street that also supplies a dispensary Patriot Care opened in Boston last August, and also would supply a dispensary the company plans in Greenfield.
“We have been encouraged by the people we’ve been able to help and we are very pleased with how it’s gone so far,” said Bob Mayerson, CEO of Patriot Care, which employs nearly 80 people, close to 60 of them in Lowell.
The Salem dispensary, the first to open in the state when patients lined up in June 2015, is located in a Grove Street building. Alternative Therapies Group grows the crop at a separate facility in Amesbury.
“Overall, things are going fine now,” Christopher Edwards, the company’s executive director, said by e-mail. Edwards added, though, “We’re concerned that here are not nearly enough patients to support the number of dispensaries that are coming.”
Mayerson and Edwards both declined to disclose their patient numbers.
Alternative Therapies Group has provisional certificates for two more dispensaries, one in Danvers and one in Merrimac. The firm is seeking state approval to switch the Danvers location to Methuen.
But Methuen recently rescinded letters of non-opposition to the Alternative Therapies Group’s proposed dispensary and two other companies that wanted to locate in the city. Mayor Stephen Zanni said Methuen wants to rethink its review process for sites, and to avoid any possibility of a dispensary also selling recreational marijuana. The city may vote this fall on whether to ban the sale of recreational marijuana.
While the impact of medical facilities have been feared in some cities and towns, local officials said to date, there have been no negative impacts.
“We’ve had absolutely no problems,” Salem Police Chief Mary E. Butler said, noting that there has not been any crime connected to the dispensary.
Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray said his city has had a “very positive” experience with the Alternative Therapies Group cultivation facility.
“I would suspect that a majority of people in Amesbury don’t even know it’s there,” he said. “They have a very low profile.”
Gray said as a indication of the city’s satisfaction, an ordinance was recently enacted allowing the cultivation site to make home deliveries of medical marijuana in Amesbury.
Kevin Murphy, Lowell city manager, said of Patriot Care’s facilities, “I don’t think we’ve had one police call to either location because they have their own security and they do an excellent job on their own.”
Medical marijuana facilities, meanwhile, are providing a financial boost to the communities where they operate. In addition to the regular property tax revenues their sites generate, the firms provide the communities with ongoing payments negotiated through host agreements.
Alternative Therapies Group is giving Salem annual payments based on a share of its revenue. Last year, the city received its first payment of about $85,000, put toward the design of a street corridor improvement project. The firm is providing Amesbury $50,000 per year, with $75,000 paid so far. Healthy Pharms will pay Georgetown $940,000 over five years.
Patriot Care is providing Lowell $25,000 annually for its cultivation site and $25,000 for each dispensary supplied by it, which amounted to $50,000 this fiscal year and is projected at $75,000 next year. The funds are used to offset public safety costs for celebrations.
“From a revenue standpoint, it’s a bonus for the city,” Murphy said.John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.