A wide-open competition among groups interested in opening medical marijuana dispensaries is taking shape in the region south of Boston, with 19 applications filed in Plymouth County alone.
In two other counties that include parts of the region, Norfolk and Bristol, groups submitted a combined 21 license applications, according to a statewide list released by the Department of Public Health.
Among the groups bidding for a license in Plymouth County is Ermont, a group headed by Jack Hudson of Provincetown, which is concentrating on Plymouth in its search for a marijuana dispensary site.
Hudson, who runs an event-planning and fund-raising consulting business for nonprofits, said he was motivated to open a dispensary by the “belief that cannabis can provide pain relief.”
He said he knows personally the plant’s beneficial qualities, having used medical marijuana in California to relieve the post-traumatic stress he developed from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, which he experienced up close as a resident near the World Trade Center site.
The 2012 state ballot law that legalized medical marijuana in Massachusetts allows the Department of Public Health to license up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries, with at least one but no more than five in each county. Statewide, 181 applications were filed.
The DPH is conducting a two-phase review of the applications. In the first phase, expected to conclude in the middle of Septemeber, it is looking at factors such as the applicant’s nonprofit status and financial viability. Groups meeting the initial criteria will advance to phase two, where their applications will be scored based on factors such as appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of the centers, and local support.
The applications come as many municipalities, concerned about potential public safety impact, are developing zoning rules to restrict where dispensaries can locate. Some passed temporary moratoriums on the centers to allow time to craft their rules.
Fogo’s, another organization seeking a license in Plymouth County, is looking at Plymouth, Lakeville, and Freetown as potential locations, said Patti Goulding, a Plymouth resident who is the group’s clerk and treasurer.
Goulding, who is collaborating with her daughter-in-law, Debra A. Goulding, said she decided to seek the license after watching a television show about how medical marijuana helped people, and from experiencing its benefits. She said she used medical marijuana purchased out of state to relieve severe rheumatoid arthritis pain.
While she is aware of concerns some people have about living near a medical marijuana dispensary, Goulding said, “Look at the good it can do for certain illnesses of different people.”
Plymouth Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said her town has been approached by several groups, including Mass Organic Therapy, and Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, interested in opening a facility in Plymouth.
Arrighi said the town’s management team would not oppose an organization opening a dispensary if it chose a suitable location and “seems like a responsible group that has gone through the state process.”
She said she has recommended to selectmen that the town not seek to adopt special zoning to regulate medical marijuana facilities. She said under existing rules, the industrial park would be best suited as a location. It is also her view that the town should receive revenue from any medical marijuana facility, either through property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes.
The Greeneway Wellness Foundation, headed by John Greene, has applied for two licenses in Plymouth County and one in Bristol County. Greene said the group does not want to disclose which communities it is targeting because of the competitive nature of the licensing process. Greene said his interest in opening dispensaries flows from his experience as an herbalist. The Plymouth resident owns a wholesale herb extract company that also provides nutritional counseling.
“Herbs are my passion, they are my life. My business is helping people through various conditions, whether it be anxiety, high blood pressure, Crohn’s disease, or cancer.”
Greene said watching his father suffer before losing a battle with cancer last November prompted him to seek the licenses. He said he believes medical marijuana would have eased his father’s suffering and, by stimulating his appetite, could have prolonged his life.
The Timothy Walsh Foundation, doing business as Green Harvest Wellness, has applied for a license in Plymouth County. The group, whose president and CEO is Middleborough resident Timothy R. Shaw, is looking at Middleborough and some other communities as potential locations for a dispensary, according to its spokesman, Chris Reilly, who declined to offer more specifics. “Tim has a great deal of interest in the state’s medical marijuana program, and a lot of it stems from his own personal experience with patients who are sick and have gained great benefit from marijuana,” Reilly said of Shaw.
Striar Center for Compassionate Care seeks to open three dispensaries, one in Middlesex, Suffolk, and Plymouth counties. The group is not ready to identify communities on which it is focusing, said Jonathan C. Rutley, of Sharon, an attorney and board member. The group’s president is Brian M. Striar, a Sharon resident whose family founded the former Striar Jewish Community Center in Stoughton.
Rutley said board members have personally or had a family member experience conditions that might have been eased by medical marijuana.
He said the group hopes to overcome concerns about a dispensary by educating the public about what the plan would entail, and by “honoring their concerns and having a discussion about how they can be addressed.”
Some applicants say they have encountered banks that will not lend to them, insurance companies that will not insure them, and real estate companies that will not show buildings.
“You’re doing something new here. As a result, there’s a lot of ambiguity,” said Fotis Loulourgas, whose team applied for a license in Norfolk County to open up G2 New England Inc.
Loulourgas said his 13-person team, which includes people with medical, charity, security, farming, and business backgrounds, has a conditional lease for a building in Randolph.
He said his group has $1 million in capital, double the state’s minimum requirement, and hopes to open an enviromentally friendly combination growing site and dispensary that would use solar power to run the grow-lights and electric cars to deliver the medical marijuana to patients who cannot pick it up. The team is looking into the viability of using an ancient growing system that uses fish, not chemicals, to fertilize the plants.
The dispensary he envisions, he said, would support 3,000 patients receiving the maximum amount of marijuana defined by the state.