By Douglas Moser
---- — Two nonprofits filed applications to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the area, proposed in Lawrence and Haverhill, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The proposals are two of a total of seven in Essex County to apply for the final, and more thorough, phase in the application process. DPH plans to finish reviewing the final applicants early next year and will begin issuing conditional dispensary licenses.
According to the law passed by referendum in 2012, each county can have no more than five state-licensed marijuana dispensaries. The DPH review process also takes into consideration the locations of the proposals to prevent clustering of dispensaries.
Locally, Nathaniel L. Averill, president of Healthy Pharms, Inc., and Charles M. Saba, president of BeWell Organic Medicine, Inc., have proposed dispensaries in Haverhill and Lawrence, respectively.
The companies operating medical marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries must be nonprofits under state law.
Valerio Romano, an attorney representing Averill, said Healthy Pharms chose Haverhill for its location. “It seems like a good hub for northern Essex based on transportation and populations,” Romano said. “Mr. Averill of Healthy Pharms is about helping patients and serving patients’ needs. Looking at the different parts of the commonwealth, it looked like there was a need in northern Essex.”
He said Healthy Pharms would wait to see where Haverhill decides to allow dispensaries, something city leaders have been struggling with, to decide whether the dispensary will also grow on that location or somewhere else.
Dispensary companies, with a few exceptions, grow and distribute their own marijuana.
Saba, of BeWell, did not want to comment on his proposal until DPH issues licenses, and until he has been able to talk to the incoming mayor of Lawrence, Daniel Rivera.
“I think this is a very important law,” said Saba. “It can be something that’s very beneficial to a certain percentage of the population who have not been able to get this form of medicine legally.”
While the applicants have to name a community, and offer details about a facility, in the proposals, DPH can offer applicants licences in another community if a license cannot be issued for the original proposed community. “DPH can say ‘hey do you want to do it here in another town,’” Romano said. “They have a lot of different options at their disposal.”
Aside from BeWell Organic Medicine and Healthy Pharms, five others applied for licenses in Essex county. Two are in Salem, two are in Beverly and one is in Ipswich.
DPH set a Nov. 21 deadline to turn all required documents in the phase two application. Only applicants approved in the first phase could apply for the second phase, which included more detailed information about financing, business models and community support.
A total of 100 phase two applications were received by the department on that day out of 181 that passed the first phase and were eligible to continue, according to DPH.
A selection committee will evaluate and score the applications based on factors such 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.
The voter-approved medical marijuana law allows DPH to register up to 35 non-profit registered marijuana dispensaries across the state, with at least one but no more than five dispensaries per county.
The law took effect Jan. 1, 2013.
DPH anticipated that the final review will be completed by early 2014, and the list of applicants who will receive a provisional license will be made available to the public.
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