The rollout of the 2013 state law legalizing the sale of medical marijuana has proceeded at a snail's pace in Massachusetts, with just six dispensaries in operation.
But under a revamped state licensure process, the fledgling industry is gaining traction, and the south suburbs are seeing their share of the increased activity.
One business is selling its product in Brockton, another expects to open its doors in Quincy this fall, and more than a dozen others are scouting locations, building facilities, and seeking regulatory approvals in municipalities from Bridgewater to Wareham.
In Brockton, In Good Health was the second dispensary to open in the state when it began sales last September. Today, the 25-employee business serves more than 1,000 patients weekly from its West Chestnut Street location, where it also cultivates the plant.
In Quincy, Ermont is growing its crop in preparation for an anticipated September opening of its dispensary on Riccuitti Drive, according to the group's spokeswoman, Donna Rheaume. The newly renovated facility is one of a handful of new retail sites expected to open statewide before the end of the year.
"We expect people from all over the South Shore. This is a very convenient location for patients, right off I-93," Rheaume said of the dispensary building, which also houses the group's cultivation operation. "We are very proud of this facility and are excited to begin serving patients."
Meanwhile, proposals that could bring at least 15 other dispensary and/or growing sites to the south suburbs have been filed with the state Department of Public Health, including nine that have received provisional certificates.
To earn provisional certificates, groups must clear hurdles that include showing evidence of interest in a site and gaining a letter of municipal support or non-opposition. Provided they receive local permits, they can then begin building the facility, and once they earn a final certificate, start cultivating. After final inspection and testing, sales can begin.
While host agreements are not required by the state, many organizations also negotiate them with cities and towns that can include cash payments to the municipalities.
Two proposals now provisionally approved are planning facilities in the Plymouth Industrial Park. Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts plans to begin converting a 46,000-square-foot building to a combined dispensary and growing facility on Aug. 1. The marijuana cultivated there would also supply a planned dispensary in Mashpee, as well as a potential third retail site the group hopes to locate south of Boston, according to its president, Jonathan Herlihy.
The William Noyes Webster Foundation is set to begin in August the $5 million conversion of another park building into a 30,000-square-foot growing facility to provide marijuana to a planned dispensary in Dennis and proposed retail sites in Dartmouth and Cambridge, according to its president, Jane W. Heatley. "We get calls every day from patients in the south-of-Boston area, and we feel there is a big demand," she said. "People truly need the medicine."
Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said access to medical marijuana is limited south of Boston, reflecting the relatively slow emergence of the industry. "But we are starting to see the facilities built out and potentially open, so that is really nice," she said.
While crediting the Baker administration with revamping the application process, Snow said statewide implementation still lags way behind the intent of the law, which was to have at least one dispensary in each county by the first year. Only five of the state's 14 counties have dispensaries now.
Scott Zoback, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, said the top priority of the program is to "ensure safe patient access to marijuana for medical use." He said that as of the first week of July, 23 applicants have been issued provisional certificates under the revised rules initiated a year ago.
Two of those groups, Alternative Compassion Services and Theory Wellness, have set their sights on Bridgewater. Both propose locating combined dispensary and cultivating facilities in an industrial corridor zoned for medical marijuana.
The Town Council adopted the zoning rules based on "the positive results of the ballot question and the business opportunities it would bring to Bridgewater," said Town Manager Michael Dutton.
Meanwhile, Brockton could see a second dispensary under a plan by Commonwealth Alternative Care that also calls for dispensaries in Taunton and Cambridge and a growing facility in Easton to supply the three retail outlets. The firm is pursuing provisional certification for the dispensaries.
"There are only six dispensaries open and operating now, so I think there's plenty of pent-up demand in the state, including the South Shore area," said Daniel Delaney, the firm's chief executive. Other groups have applied to open facilities in Holbrook, Norwell, Norwood, Sharon, and Wareham — all provisionally certified — as well as in Canton, Hanover, Mansfield, Middleborough, and Rockland.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.