With 20 sites across the commonwealth – including locations in Worcester, Milford and Ayer - winning initial state approval to open medical marijuana dispensaries, the next step toward approval begins, a process that will focus heavily on local rules.
In announcing the sites that won provisional approval Friday, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) said the selected applicants will be required to demonstrate compliance with municipal rules, regulations, ordinances and bylaws before they open. The dispensaries must also pass a state inspection before receiving full licensure. The inspection includes security, architectural review and marijuana-growing requirements.
"Only dispensaries with the highest quality applications were selected to be a part of this new industry, which will create hundreds of jobs while maintaining community safety," said Karen van Unen, executive director of the state's Medical Use of Marijuana (MMJ) Program, which falls under the public health department.
Van Unen was responsible for final sign off on the selections and will oversee all aspects of the MMJ program, including the patient and caregiver registration database, which will be operational later this year and available to law enforcement, according to a statement from the DPH.
In Central Massachusetts, the provisional licenses have been granted to:
On its website, Bay State Relief hailed the decision, and said it's "proud and excited to be a part of this new chapter in Massachusetts history. We look forward to working closely with state and local officials as we begin the process of building towards opening the doors for our patients in late 2014," read a statement from Executive Director Armand Riendeau.
The list announced by the DPH would place at least one facility in each of 10 of the state's 14 counties. Berkshire and Franklin counties were shut out, as were the island counties of Dukes and Nantucket. The law authorizing medical marijuana in Massachusetts, which was approved by voters at the ballot box in 2012, called for up to 35 licenses to be issued, with at least one in every county.
The agency invited eight applicants to seek alternate locations in any of those four counties. The eight include Patriot Care Corp., which had sought a license in Worcester. It was, however, awarded a provisional license in Lowell.
Critics of the licensing process, including the Massachusetts Republican Party, questioned the level of transparency, describing it "politicized and secretive" and alleging that state Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett is too closely associated with former Congressman William Delahunt, who is among the license applicants with political ties. Delahunt's group – Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts – was awarded provisional licenses for dispensaries in Mashpee, Taunton and Plymouth.
Also, the Massachusetts Medical Society cautioned Friday that marijuana's effectiveness as medicine has not been scientifically proven, and said its increased availability presents implications for occupational safety and "poses health risks of toxins and cognitive impairment."
Middlesex County - the state's most populous county - received the highest number of dispensary licenses: four, in Lowell, Newton and Cambridge, along with Ayer.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.
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