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New England News

Openings In Sight For Medical Marijuana Retail Locations In Western Mass.

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Although Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana in 2012, it took until June of this year for the state to certify the first dispensary. Now the emerging industry is coming to western Massachusetts.On June 23rd, Massachusetts granted Alternative Therapies’ certification to sell medical marijuana at its Salem location. Since voters approved the use of medical marijuana three years ago, more than 20,000 people have been certified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to purchase the substance, according to the DPH website.

Manna Wellness, which proposed a facility in Pittsfield, was one of many organizations not granted a license during last year’s application process. Even though the state’s medical marijuana law mandates at least one dispensary in every county, none were granted in Berkshire, Hampden, Dukes or Nantucket counties. The DPH restarted the application process after Governor Charlie Baker took over for Deval Patrick, a Democrat, in January. Baker, a Republican, appointed Marylou Sudders secretary of health and human services.

“We completely changed the process,” Sudders said. “There had been, what I would call a competitive procurement process, pitting organizations against one another. That was not at all very transparent or clear and frankly convoluted. Since nothing had really been issued, we literally stopped that, and looked at how we did things such as opened pharmacies in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is a licensing pharmacy. So if an organization operates as a pharmacy wants to open somewhere, there’s local community involvement and then state oversight. That’s essentially the process we’re going through.”

The state now accepts applications on a rolling basis. Manna is one of 21 organizations invited by the state to submit a management and operation profile after filing an application of intent. Manna is seeking three licenses across the commonwealth for a cultivation facility and two retail sites. One of the sites being considered is on Callahan Dr. off of West Housatonic St. in Pittsfield, where Manna sought to open a dispensary during the previous application process. Julia Germaine is the group’s director of resources.

“We still are very much a patient-centric, healthcare-focused organization,” Germaine said. “We’re trying to move beyond the cookies and brownies that you see in some other states that have medical programs and really promote medical products that conventional healthcare providers recognize as medicine. We want to see through the medical and therapeutic potential of the plant.”

Germaine says Manna has bolstered its management team with people experienced in healthcare and business. Germaine expects the licensing results by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Patriot Care is expected to open retail locations in Greenfield, Lowell and Boston once its cultivation center in Lowell grows enough product. Executive vice president for governmental and community affairs Dennis Kunian says construction on Legion Dr. in Greenfield will be complete by the end of the year. He says the company is putting lighting, cameras and other security measures in place for the building and parking lot.

“A very, very secure space or it will be,” Kunian said. “In terms of double doors and access into the space. Very much state-of-the-art in terms of the lighting and especially in terms of the security.”

Kunian says the company currently doesn’t plan to hire security guards or request police presence. The patient-to-employee ratio within the dispensary will be one-to-one. All other patients would remain in the waiting room until an employee is available. He expects 70 to 90 patients a day at each facility staffed by 15 to 20 full- and part-time employees. At least two strains of medical marijuana, including edibles, will be offered. Under different names the company serves 7,000 patients a month between Arizona and Washington, D.C. Kunian says the average purchase is $65 to $85 for 1/8th of an ounce.

Meanwhile, New England Treatment Access is opening a dispensary in Northampton in mid-September. It’s holding pre-registration for cardholding patients Thursdays through Saturdays starting August 20th. Expecting to serve up to 5,000 people, spokesman Norton Arbelaez says the company will be working with 60 strains of marijuana with more than 20 on the shelves at any given time.

“A range of infused products all the way from lotions, capsules, edibles and even medical marijuana-infused water,” said Arbelaez.

In constant contact with Northampton Police, Arbelaez says NETA has a full-time security director and will have a guard on site. The company plans to employ about 135 people statewide, including 25 in Northampton.

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