The scramble for licenses to open medical marijuana centers north of Boston is on, with 16 applications filed in Essex County alone.
In two other counties —
Ipswich Pharmaceuticals, an organization headed by Joseph F. McCarthy that hopes to open a dispensary in Ipswich, is among the groups bidding for licenses in Essex County.
Locations being considered by other companies include Beverly, Lynn, Georgetown, Haverhill, Peabody, and Salem.
A disabled veteran and Ipswich resident, McCarthy said he was spurred to bid for a license after learning of “the positive effects medicinal cannabis had on veterans returning home to Arizona and New Mexico,” two states that allow the use of the drug. He said there was also a personal motivation.
“My family has been overwhelmed by different kinds of cancers,” he said, adding that he also has a brother with epilepsy. He said he hopes dispensing medical marijuana could help ease the conditions of people with those illnesses.
The 2012 ballot law legalizing medical marijuana allows the Department of Public Health to license up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries, at least one but no more than five in each of the state’s 14 counties. Overall, 181 applications were filed.
The Department of Public Health is reviewing the applications in two phases. In the first phase, expected to be completed in mid-September, the agency will look at factors such as the applicant’s nonprofit status and financial viability.
Groups that meet the initial criteria will move 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 cities and towns, wary of potential public safety impacts of medical marijuana dispensaries, are developing local zoning rules to restrict where they can locate. Some enacted temporary moratoriums on the dispensaries to allow time to craft their rules.
Medicinal Evolution, another group seeking a license in Essex County, is focusing on sites in Beverly and Georgetown, according to the group’s founder and CEO, Brandon Tarricone.
Tarricone, a jazz musician who also has worked in real estate, said the group is not daunted by the competition that has emerged for licenses.
“We’ve done a lot of groundwork. We have a lot of momentum with the towns,” he said. “More than anything, we are reaching out with the patients and trying to work with groups in the community.”
The group, which has its home office in Peabody, met with Georgetown selectmen on Monday to discuss its interest in locating either a dispensary, a cultivation center, or a combined facility in town.
Town administrator Michael Farrell said board members did not take any vote but “felt they received good answers” to their questions and are receptive to the proposal.
The Georgetown Planning Board has developed a proposal for a medical marijuana zoning ordinance that it plans to place before the fall Town Meeting at the end of October, Farrell said.
In Beverly, Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr. has met with Tarricone’s group about its interest in the city. The mayor also is scheduled to meet this week with another group seeking a license, North Shore Progressive Health, according to Tina Cassidy, the city’s director of planning and development.
No respresentative of that group could be reached for comment. Lynne McCarren of Swampscott is listed as president, according to a filing of corporation status with the secretary of state’s office.
Cassidy said Beverly has no special zoning rules governing medical marijuana. But she said existing zoning rules would limit dispensing facilities to commercial areas, and growing facilities to industrial zones. Board of Health approval also would be required if the dispensary was selling the marijuana as part of a prepared food product, she said.
Good Chemistry of Massachusetts is applying for three dispensary licenses, one each in Essex, Suffolk, and Worcester counties. In Essex County, the Boston-based group is focusing its search for sites in the more populated southern end of the county, in Beverly, Lynn, Peabody, and Salem. In Suffolk County, it is focusing on Boston, according to James Smith of Swampscott, a former state representative who is the group’s lawyer and a board member.
Smith said he became involved because the medical marijuana law had “strong support across the state,” passing with 63 percent of the vote and earning a majority in 349 of the state’s 351 cities and towns. He said patient advocates and medical professionals are also “very supportive and anxious to begin using this medication.’’
“I think there is clearly some concern in the communities, but when people understand this is truly a medicine and a very important medicine to a lot of people” those fears will ease, he said.
Planting Hope also is applying for three licenses, one each in Essex, Suffolk, and Barnstable counties. In Essex County, it is focusing its search for a dispensary site on Salem. In Suffolk County, it is concentrating on Boston, according to John Napoli, the group’s president.
Napoli, a Boston resident, founded and owns The Hempest stores in Boston, Cambridge, Northampton, and Burlington, Vt., that sell clothing and other products made with hemp, which is fiber from marijuana plants.
“I have one of the longest-running cannabis-themed businesses in the world,” said Napoli, who founded the Hempest in 1995 and also an urban gardening supply store in Boston. He said operating dispensaries would be “a very natural step for us. We really know this plant inside and out.”
Creative Botanical Development, which lists its primary office in Peabody, has filed for two licenses, one in Essex County and the other in Middlesex County. The group is looking at Haverhill as its Essex location and Framingham in Middlesex, but is not limiting its search to those communities, said John C. Taxiarchis, of Wayland, the group’s attorney and a board member.
“I was getting to the stage in my life where I wanted to do something in addition to practicing law, where I could give back,” Taxiarchis said.
Striar Center for Compassionate Care, based in Canton, seeks to open three dispensaries, one each in Middlesex, Suffolk, and Plymouth counties. The group is not yet ready to identify the communities on which is focusing, said Jonathan C. Rutley of Sharon, a lawyer and board member.