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slides: 14 Non-Profits Seek Medical Marijuana License for Worcester County

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Fourteen applications to create non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries in Worcester County were received by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) this week to begin phase 1 of the dispensary application process. This is another step in the lengthy saga that began last year to bring medical marijuana to the state after it was legalized by a voter ballot initiative last year. In sum, the state received 181 applications to open dispensaries across the state.

Lingering Issues

But this comes amid lingering questions from both sides of this controversial debate concerning the pace and adequacy of the entire process.

Konstantina "Konnie" Lukes, former Mayor of Worcester and current Vice Chair of the Worcester City Council, feels it is moving too quickly without enough questions being asked or answered. Her concerns center around the continued conflict between federal and state law and the complications that may arise as a result. 

"It we are to treat marijuana as medicine it should be pharmaceutical companies that dispense it, not special marijuana dispensaries," Lukes said. "There is no other medication that has special dispensaries."

This is true, of course, because most medication is governed by strict FDA guidelines.

Lukes worries that since pharmacies will not dispense marijuana out of fear that they will violate federal law, there will be a severe lack of FDA and federal oversight over the those who end up producing and giving the drug to consumers. "I worry about the quality and safety of the substance," she said.

Lukes is also concerned about the lack of zoning regulations governing where dispensaries can be placed, worrying they could be found near schools and other places where children may regularly be found.

"I worry about what effect this could have on our communities and neighborhoods," she said, adding that the potential for abuse is still very real, fearing many will get ahold of the drug without proper need for it.

Worcester zones up

Lukes and the council recently began the process of creating zoning rules for the city that will govern where dispensaries can and cannot be placed.

The maximum amount of dispensaries allowed in each county by law is five (up to 35 will be allowed in the state total according to the statute). Lukes hopes that all five aren't centered in Worcester if the county does indeed reach this maximum.

"I can't imagine anyone wants five dispensaries in this town," she said.

Federal versus state laws

GoLocalWorcester Legal Expert Leonardo Angiulo expressed additional worries about the conflict between federal and state law raised by the arrival of dispensaries in Massachusetts.

"One open issue is that where distribution of marijuana and cultivation is still illegal under federal law, there's a real question as to whether people involved in the trade will be subject to prosecution," Angiulo said.

Local talk show host Michael Graham dismissed many of the above concerns, though it is probably safe to say he'd like to see federal laws change along with the state's. Graham said he thinks the state is moving too slowly on the matter.

"Why is the government regulating pot at all? Other than limiting legal access by kids, the state’s only role should be to collect taxes from the sale of marijuana," Graham said.

"I say this as someone who’s never tried pot and who has no interest in starting," he said. "The voters of Massachusetts cast their ballots and it’s time for their 'public servants' to stop the foot-dragging and implement the will of the people."

Another benefit of legalizing medical marijuana that is often mentioned, besides the positive effects it has for so many patients, is the possibility of an economic boom as a result. As SeeChange Consulting Inc., an independent financial analysis firm that specializes in new and unique markets, told GoLocalWorcester back in November right after the ballot measure was approved, the medical marijuana industry generated $1.7 billion in 2011. That number is expected to climb to nearly $9 billion in the next four years.

The Application Process

Applications will be reviewed in two phases, according to DPH. Under Phase 1, dispensary applicants will be reviewed for, among other things, non-profit status and financial viability. Applicants must also report whether any member of their proposed organization has a felony drug conviction.

Applicants who meet the qualifications in Phase 1 will be eligible to proceed to Phase 2 this fall where a selection committee will conduct an in-depth review and select dispensaries through a competitive process. The committee will evaluate and score Phase 2 applications based on such factors as appropriateness of the site, geographical distribution of dispensaries, local support, and the applicant’s ability to meet the overall health needs of registered patients, while ensuring public safety.

Applicants were not yet required to list the specific town or city where which they wished to place the RDM at this point. To see the names of individuals and organizations who applied from Worcester County, see the slides, below.

The Voters Have Spoken

Despite the continuing debate on the controversial issue of medical marijuana, the process will continue to move forward. As W. Stuart Loosemore, Esq., Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce put it, the voters have spoken and they spoke loudly.

"Regardless of people’s personal beliefs on the matter, this is the law of the Commonwealth it was approved by 60% of votes (both statewide and in Worcester County) and it took effect on January 1," Loosemore said in an official statement to GoLocalWorcester. "All procedures and regulations enacted will need to comply with state law and city zoning ordinances, as well as maintaining public safety and security as a top priority. With every new law there will be unforeseen matters that arise during implementation but those will be handled in due course."

DPH anticipates that the Phase 1 review will be completed by mid-September. At that time, the list of applicants who make it to Phase 2 will be made available to the public.

For more information please the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Website.

See below for a list of corporations that applied to create medical marijuana dispensaries in Worcester County with the listed contact person.


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