The state Department of Public Health issued 20 provisional licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in 10 Massachusetts counties yesterday, including two in Essex County, and officials said the facilities could be open by this summer.
Healthy Pharms, Inc. received a provisional license to open a dispensary in Haverhill as city officials there continue to grapple with how and where to zone the facility. Alternative Therapies Group, based in Newburyport, received a provisional license to open a dispensary in Salem and a grow and cultivation facility in Amesbury.
Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals, Inc. received a provisional license for a dispensary in Boston and a grow and cultivation facility in Amesbury.
BeWell Organic Medicine, Inc., based in Methuen, did not receive a provisional license for its proposal in Lawrence.
Out of seven proposals for dispensaries in Essex County, two received the provisional licenses. Statewide, 20 out of 100 received the provisional licenses, though four counties – Franklin, Dukes, Hampshire and Nantucket – did not have any licensed proposals.
Eight “high quality” applicants that did not receive provisional licenses were invited into an expedited process to propose new dispensaries in one of those four counties, said Karen van Unen, executive director of the state’s medical marijuana program.
“I figured all along the department was going to be transparent,” said Valerio Romano, an attorney who represents Healthy Pharms. “Healthy Pharms score is up there, which puts them above many others who received permits. The application process was thorough and well thought out.”
Haverhill currently has a moratorium on dispensaries for the City Council to figure out where to zone them. Several residents have voiced their opposition to the dispensary, though the city as a whole voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana in 2012.
Mayor James Fiorentini and City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien did not respond to requests for comment.
Romano said he plans to continue outreach and “PR” in the city to allay some residents’ and officials’ concerns about the facility. “I’m looking forward to working with the city of Haverhill to be a responsible corporate citizen there.”
The CEO of Healthy Pharms is Nathaniel Averill, a former manager with Bristol-Myers Squibb. Healthy Pharms has a purchase and sale agreement on 114 Hale St. for $360,000 with Ronald Auclair.
BeWell CEO Charles Saba, of Methuen, said he was disappointed his company did not receive a license. “BeWell Organic Medicine would like to congratulate the groups who were awarded provisional licenses,” he said. “We are disappointed with the results, however we scored high enough to be in the final cut and look forward to being included in the awarding of additional licenses either in Essex or other counties.”
Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera opposed a dispensary in the city, a break with former Mayor William Lantigua, who had written a letter of support for BeWell.
“I’m excited. I’m glad the state Department of Public Health looked at who wanted a site and chose wisely,” Rivera said. “To me it was never about the applicant, it was about the site.”
Officials in Salem and Amesbury said they have met with the respective companies with facilities in their communities and are comfortable with them.
Alternative Therapies Group, with CEO Chris Edwards, proposed a dispensary at 50 Grove St. in Salem and a grow facility at 59 S. Hunt Road in Amesbury.
Edwards and other members of ATG’s board of directors have met with Salem and Amesbury officials and with residents around the dispensary in Salem.
“They have already reached out to the ward councilor and neighborhood groups in anticipation of being awarded a license,” said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. “They’ve been in City Hall and met with public safety officials to get a better handle on what they’re proposing.”
ATG also has proposed a host community agreement, which includes an additional payment beyond the tax bill.
Salem City Councilor Beth Gerard, a health care professional who represents the ward where the dispensary will be located, said she is satisfied with the group’s proposal.
“They already have medical marijuana facilities running for a few years in Maine,” Gerard said. “So I think they know exactly what they’re doing. They’ve talked to me about how they’re going to staff it and it sounds like the run of the mill doctor’s office.”
A majority of the Salem City Council believe the city’s current zoning regulations are adequate to locate dispensaries in the city. The council in October killed a proposal to put a moratorium on dispensaries.
ATG has a lease agreement for both the Salem and Amesbury facilities.
Amesbury is still considering zoning regulations for dispensaries. City officials said existing rules cover the type of cultivation facilities that were proposed there and support the two companies licensed to grow there.
“We’re pleased,” said Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray. “We were hoping both would get licensed. It’s consistent with our plan, and the City Council is on board with this, to grow our commercial-industrial base.”
Gray said the sites for the two cultivation facilities – ATG’s on Grove Street and Green Heart’s at 10 Industrial Way – are both zoned for industrial use.
At-large City Councilor Donna McClure said she was concerned at first, but met with both companies and toured the facilities. “They presented a good story. We’ll have to see how it will play out,” she said.
Green Heart has a lease for space at 10 Industrial Way.
State law, passed by voters in 2012, directed DPH to license at least one dispensary in each county in the state, with a maximum of five per county and 35 statewide.
van Unen, the medical marijuana program director, said the eight companies that were invited to apply for a dispensary in one of the four open counties will take part in an expedited process that will wrap up in June.
An outside company, ICF International, a consultancy based in Virginia with offices in Boston and Cambridge, reviewed and scored the applications for the selection committee and Creative Services, Inc. of Mansfield, Mass., conducted background checks on the applicants.
The selection committee included DPH officials, a deputy police chief, a public health consultant and a pharmacists representative.
DPH officials said the applications were reviewed on their merits and political clout did not play a role in the selection. “There was a merit based system already in place,” said Walpole Deputy Police Chief John Carmichael Jr., a member of the selection committee. “We looked at the public health part, security, geographic dispersion, and all the political aspects were taken out of it and we only focused on the merits of the applications.”
The licenses are provisional upon the licensees submitting more detailed security and business plans, and passing final DPH inspections.
van Unen said many of the facilities could be ready to open by August. Romano said Healthy Pharms in Haverhill likely would not be ready before then.
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