The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Wednesday selected the first company allowed to grow marijuana for medical use, a milestone in the troubled effort to carry out the state's 2012 medical marijuana law.
Alternative Therapies Group Inc. received permission to operate a dispensary at 50 Grove St., Salem, and a cultivation site at 10 Industrial Way, Amesbury.
But the sale of medical marijuana is still months away. The seeds need at least three months to grow. Then, ATG will face further review, including tests of the plants and inspections of the company's transportation plans.
"This is an exciting first step," said Nichole Snow, deputy director of Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which supports access to medical marijuana. "I am overwhelmed with joy. . . . It means that myself as a patient and other patients will have safe access to their much-needed medication."
Snow, who lives in Salem, said she needed marijuana to treat muscle spasms and pain resulting from injuries she suffered in multiple car accidents.
The dispensary licensing process has been delayed after questions arose about the work of companies hired to review the 100 applicants.
One contractor acknowledged that it was pressed for time while scrutinizing some applications. Another, hired to perform background checks, failed to discover that a couple in line to run several proposed dispensaries had lost their marijuana license in Colorado because of violations.
When the public health department initially chose 20 applicants in late January, the applications revealed that some employed politicians, lobbyists, and former health department employees, raising questions about conflicts of interest.
Faced with more than two dozen lawsuits over the process, the health department put selection on hold. Wednesday's announcement indicates the state is now moving forward.
"Providing safe patient access is a priority . . . and we are proud to take this important step forward," Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz said in a statement. "Selecting dispensaries that meet our high standards takes time, but ensuring a launch of this new industry the right way for the people of Massachusetts is a top priority."
State inspectors visited ATG's site and reviewed its floor plans, security, and cultivation operations, according to the health department'.
"Over the past two years, we have undertaken a comprehensive process to ensure the highest standards of public safety and patient access are met," said Karen van Unen, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Program. "We are looking forward to continued progress as more dispensaries are approved over the coming months."
Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said that ATG representatives "went out of their way to meet with neighbors, officials, and others in Salem, to introduce themselves and explain what they will be doing. . . . Salem has long been a progressive, forward-thinking, and open-minded community, and we look forward to ATG starting operation and providing yet another critical medical choice to patients for the entire North Shore."
Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray also welcomed ATG. "I look forward to seeing ATG develop as a positive contributor to the Amesbury community," he said in a statement.