Patients voiced hope and frustration as the state’s sixth medical marijuana dispensary formally opened Tuesday — more than three years after voters approved such use, a decision that had been expected to usher in dozens of dispensaries by now.
Executives of Patriot Care, operator of the new dispensary, which opened in Lowell, described the licensing process as a positive but long road and said that they opted for a cautious launch, offering just four strains of marijuana in the beginning but no other products, such as edibles, tinctures, or oils. And they said they want to make sure they have ample supplies. The first dispensaries that opened last year quickly ran into supply problems.
“We are going to take a measured approach on the amounts we will have people buy for the first few weeks,” Robert Mayerson, Patriot’s chief executive, said in an interview.
“We will have more supply rolling out weekly from our facility, and we want to make sure we have as broad an assortment as possible.”
Mayerson said 90 patients had preregistered to use the Lowell dispensary, and 60 were served Monday as the company quietly opened its doors for a soft launch before Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting with local dignitaries.
“Most of the people who came live probably within a 25-mile radius of here, and they are so happy they have a facility they don’t have to drive hours to get to,” Mayerson said.
Patients have complained for months about the lack of dispensaries, with just four open before last week. Those dispensaries are in Salem, Brockton, Northampton, and Ayer.
A fifth dispensary, New England Treatment Access in Brookline, opened Feb. 6, but patients must have an appointment. The company faced stiff neighborhood opposition to the dispensary, which is in busy Brookline Village. It won town approval by agreeing to restrict hours the first few weeks of operation while town officials monitor the business.
The slow pace of dispensary openings — the 2012 voter-approved law allowed for 35 facilities the first year — has frustrated patients.
Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said the state rule requiring dispensary applicants to get a letter of approval or a less enthusiastic statement of “nonopposition” from community leaders has mired the process in local politics. Such a letter is necessary to get a state license.
“If it was an application process like a liquor store, nobody would have to go to the city manager to see if they oppose it,” Snow said. “This letter of nonopposition is still being used as a vehicle by the cities and towns to slow down the process.”
The state’s licensing process ground to a halt with charges of political favoritism during governor Deval Patrick’s tenure. Controversy surrounding the previous system sparked more than two dozen lawsuits.
Regulators from the administration of the current governor, Charlie Baker, in May revamped the licensing system, saying the new process strips away the subjectivity and secrecy that had tainted it.
Snow said Baker has good intentions and has made improvements, but the requirement for applicants to win a community support letter still presents a major hurdle.
“Nobody thought these letters would have such a significant damper on the process,” she said.
About a dozen patients protested outside Patriot Care’s opening Tuesday. Their anger was directed at a former state health department manager, now a lobbyist, who is working to block the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
The legalization push will probably be decided by voters in November. But lobbyist Daniel Delaney, who is affiliated with Patriot Care and has lobbied in support of other medical marijuana dispensary applicants, surprised patient groups when he recently launched his antilegalization campaign.
State records show Delaney received $69,000 last year from Patriot Care for lobbying work. He also is listed as chief executive of Commonwealth Alternative Care, a company seeking a state medical marijuana dispensary license in Cambridge. The state’s health department, where Delaney once worked, grants licenses and regulates dispensaries.
Patriot Care is the only company to receive licenses for three medical marijuana dispensaries. In addition to the Lowell facility, it has won licenses in Boston and Greenfield.
RachelRamone Donlan, a 44-year-old patient, drove from Braintree to protest Delaney’s work with Patriot Care. She said the protesters want Patriot Care to cut ties with the lobbyist because they fear that if opponents of recreational use succeed, medical marijuana dispensaries will “have a monopoly and drive the prices up for patients.”
Patriot Care’s executives said they are not involved with Delaney’s campaign and have no plans to sever ties with him as their lobbyist, calling him a valued partner.
Delaney said he is not aiming to create a monopoly for medical marijuana dispensaries. He said he opposes the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana because he feels it might force municipalities to permit more recreational marijuana shops than they would want.
He said the measure, which would allow households to grow up to 12 marijuana plants, could fuel a black market for marijuana.