Massachusetts approves first 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses


Brandon Marshall/Westword

In the November elections of 2012, 63% of the voters in Massachusetts approved Question 3, the state’s newly proposed medical marijuana law, making the Bay State the 18th state in the nation to legalize ganja use for medicinal purposes. With Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island already respecting patients’ rights, and New Hampshire looking to follow in Colorado and Washington’s footsteps, all of New England will soon enjoy safe access.
Back in Massachusetts, in accordance with the regulations set forth in the Question 3 medical marijuana law, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health sparked the process this past Friday by granting the first 20 official licenses for prospective storefront medical marijuana dispensaries.

State law actually allowed for the government to issue up to 35 such licenses, yet perhaps due to slower-than-expected implementation on the state-wide patient registry, the number was capped at just 20, with an additional eight applications stalled while the applicants seek a more suitable location to open.
State officials vow to approve more licenses by June, and predict that there will be a couple dozen brick and mortar weed dispensaries in operation by fall of this year. “Most likely between now and August we will be opening up maybe 24 to 26 dispensaries,” states Karen van Unen, the director of the state’s medical marijuana program.
Van Unen states, “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.” By her estimates, up to 130,000 patients will enjoy safe access in the first two years alone.
Question 3 dictates that while the state may not issue more than 35 licenses in the first year of the program, it also mandates that every county in Massachusetts must be granted at least one dispensary location. As it stands now, only 10 of the state’s 14 counties were granted licenses.
The 8 applicants who were invited to re-apply were told they must do so in one of the 4 unassigned counties, but that they would be the only applicants vying for the much sought after green light to open. The state says that all 14 counties will be represented by June of this year.
The application process began in September 2013, when 159 applicants made it through the initial round of screening. Of those, 100 applied for the second phase of the process in November, which led to the 20 newly granted licenses this past week.
Those approved will be subject to a $50,000 annual registration fee, a $1,500 architectural review, and an annual $500 fee per employee working at the dispensary.
Matthew Allen, the Director of the pro-pot Massachusetts Patients Policy Alliance is excited about the latest developments, saying, “This is a very important benchmark, and there’s a lot of excitement in the patient community that we’re getting very close to having dispensaries open their doors so people have safe access to this medicine.”
With their state-issued licenses in hand, the 20 groups approved on Friday can now begin to build out their shops, build up their grows, and build long-lasting business relationships with their respective cities and towns. It looks like it’s going to be a wicked dank summer in Massachusetts.