Eleven Medical Marijuana Dispensary Applicants Move Forward to Next Phase

Some of the shops are expected to open in November, but none of those advancing are in Boston.

Image via Department of Public Health

Image via Department of Public Health

The state’s Department of Public Health weeded out licenses for nine medical marijuana dispensaries—including those in Boston and Cambridge—from the pool of initial applicants, preventing them from moving on to the next phase of implementation before shops are slated to open later this year.

On Friday afternoon, officials from the DPH held a press conference to update the public on next steps as they prepare to allow the 11 remaining qualified businesses to start supplying the drug to patients.

Karen van Unen, executive director of the Medical Use of Marijuana Program, which is run by the DPH, said her administration took careful steps in selecting the dispensary companies that will receive provisional certificates to set up operations and undergo state inspections, before opening sometime in November of this year, or February of 2015.

“The process is all about implementing the will of the voters, who supported patient access to marijuana for medical use,” said van Unen.

In November of 2012, voters overwhelmingly supported a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts. After it passed, the DPH analyzed laws and best practices in other states where the drug was legalized for medicinal purposes, and then crafted their own regulations, which were approved by the Public Health Council last year.

Once details about how the state would regulate the use and distribution of medical marijuana were ironed out, the process for non-profit entities to obtain a license began. In August of last year, the DPH received 181 applications from interested parties looking to open a dispensary. That list was thinned multiple times during rigorous investigatory phases, and is now down to 11 Registered Marijuana Dispensary applicants that will advance to the “Inspection Phase” of the selection process.

Those facilities will be in Salem, Milford, Ayer, Brockton, Brookline, Dennis, Haverhill, Newton, Quincy, Northampton, and Lowell. The proposed facilities that were on track to open in Boston and Cambridge did not make the cut.

Officials said the remaining 11 applicants put 97 percent of the state’s population within 30 miles of a Registered Marijuana Dispensary.

While van Unen said dispensaries could start popping up by early next year, they still face major hurdles before they’ll be allowed to cut the ribbon and start serving patients. Before dispensaries are allowed to open, DPH will conduct inspections on grow-readiness, processing, retail-readiness, product safety, quality, security, storage and transportation.

Dispensary owners also have to comply with regulatory guidelines within the municipality where they will be operating, and secure the proper zoning and permitting before finally receiving the official Certificate of Registration to open.

The law passed by voters allows for 35 dispensaries statewide. Officials from the DPH said they would welcome applicants to submit proposals for the counties not currently selected for licenses sometime in July. They will then decide whether or not those applicants will move forward in October.

The state’s entire process for vetting the dispensary applicants can be found on their website.