Worcester to Open Medical Pot Dispensary + Cultivation Facility
Saturday, February 01, 2014
In addition to one dispensary, the city is also the site of a planned cultivation facility run by the same company that will grow marijuana for local patients and those in Boston.
Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, Inc., the company selected to set up shop in Worcester, received two of 20 provisional licenses approved through the state Department of Public Health. Officials made the announcement Friday after paring down an initial list of applicants from 181 last fall.
The company expects to begin operating by October, and in its first year projects about 1,000 patients according to its application filed with the state. The company's executive officers are associated with dispensaries in the west, including Good Chemistry of Colorado.
Bay State Relief, Inc. received Worcester County's second license for a dispensary planned for Milford.
That company's executive director, Armand Riendeau, called Friday a “milestone” for Massachusetts in a written statement.
“Our mission at Bay State Relief is to provide safe and compassionate access to high-quality medicine, with individualized care and attention to qualified patients,” according to Riendeau. “We have assembled a team of professionals who bring the skills and experience necessary to fulfill this mission.”
He said the team was committed and had experience in public health, non-profit management, nursing and hospice care, pharmacy, patient advocacy, business, and law.
Patients, advocates cheer moment
“There's a lot of excitement in the patient community,” said Matthew J. Allen, the head of a statewide patient advocacy group. “Here at the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance we've been working toward this moment for years.”
“We're really excited it's finally going through,” said Amanda Bagley, a Worcester resident whose husband Brian suffers from chronic lumbar sciatica resulting from a back injury and exacerbated by a degenerative disk disease.
Because of a kidney condition, Bagley's husband is unable to take opiate-based medications for his nerve pain and marijuana had been the only treatment helpful for the father of two.
“We're hoping he's going to be able to get the medicine he needs,” Bagley said. “Because right now, where it's decriminalized, your only choice is to buy it on the black market.”
She said the new system would allow for the regulation and cultivation of marijuana expressly for medical purposes, with appropriately suited active cannabinoids. Making the comparison with tomatoes, cherry or beefsteak, “some are good for eating off the branch, or for making cheese sandwiches.”
“Cannabis is the same way.”
The city of Worcester had nine applicants in the second round of the competitive process late last year.
The state DPH's seven-member selection committee scored dispensary applicants along a common scoresheet. The executive director of the DPH's medical marijuana program, Karen Van Unen, awarded the final certificates of registration.
While there was some criticism of the process, medical marijuana advocates said they approved of the way licenses had been handled.
“I think this process has been thoughtful and effective,” said the patient alliance's Allen. “The application process I believe has been open,” with applications public and the scoresheets expected to be released. Allen said he was confident license recipients would meet the needs of patients.
“We're very happy it's moving forward,” said Anne Johnson of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association. Johnson said her trade group would being aiding registered medical dispensaries to get up and running in the coming months. She put the start of some operations at six months, dependent on the extent of work needed on dispensaries and cultivation facilities. “We know we're not quite close enough for the patients.”
Johnson said a threat to the industry existed in proposed legislation that could hamper dispensaries from opening or operating. “We need to keep our eyes closely on the statehouse.”
Local zoning in place in Worcester
Zoning rules enacted last December by city councilors restricted dispensaries from largely residential neighborhoods and put buffers between them and schools, day care centers, and public libraries, parks, and playgrounds.
Not everyone was cheering Friday.
Massachusetts Medical Society President Ronald Dunlap released a statement saying there was still insufficient information about the safety of marijuana for medical use.
“Patients should remember that marijuana lacks the rigorous testing of drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration; that claims for its effectiveness have not been scientifically proven; and, that it poses health risks of toxins and cognitive impairment,” Dunlap said. “Implications for occupational health and safety are other questions raised by marijuana use.”
“I would wholeheartedly disagree,” Allen said in response. “There are thousands of publications in peer-reviewed journals from clinical studies.”
In a release Friday from the patient alliance, personal statements of medical marijuana's efficacy included a Rutland woman dealing with chronic pain from an automobile accident; a former Harvard Medical School faculty member and clinical neuropsychologist with a severe neuropathic pain condition, allodynia; a Salem man with neurofibromitosis; and a disabled combat veteran in Newton with chronic pain.
Bagley, in Worcester, told the story of a family friend with HIV, who used marijuana to cope with his illness. But a batch of the drug one day had mold from before it dried, causing polyps to form in his lungs. That wouldn't happen under a system of regulated, third-party-tested marijuana, Bagley says.
Dispensaries proposed for Northampton and Holyoke are the only other locations west of Worcester to receive approval this week, but the state's law, passed in November 2012 by a ballot initiative, requires each county to have at least one.
The law also limits the number of dispensaries statewide to 35, with a maximum of five in each county. Six companies with unsuccessful applications were encouraged to apply Friday in different counties without a selected dispensary.
Massachusetts was the 18th state at the time to pass a medical marijuana law.
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