Issues with Medical Marijuana Dispensary Permits in Massachusetts

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By M. H. Thanthou

More than one month ago the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced the winners of 20 provisional license holders for the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries. However, no one has an actual operating license yet, and the whole system seems to be in quite a bit of trouble.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo Photo: Boston Globe Online

House Speaker Robert DeLeo
Photo: Boston Globe Online

Last week House Speaker Robert DeLeo suggested that the Department of Public Health scrap the whole process and start over. DeLeo’s comments don’t really come as a shock; from the end of phase one of the dispensary application process, there have been some questionable activities going on.

Phase two applications required a $30,000 non-refundable fee. After the phase one survivors started on these applications, they were informed that there would be a change to the requirements and that they would have to show the $500,000 in a bank account belonging to the applicant. Many applicants had that cash available but tied into other accounts, accounts that would cost huge sums of cash to move, so they dropped out. Then, only weeks before the applications were due, the DPH changed the regulation back to what it was initially. Why would they have done that?

About the same time as they switched the financial requirements back, the DPH also hired a new Executive Director for the medical marijuana program statewide. This sent people questioning the competence of the department and if they could even handle this project. The DPH takes a second strike, and what was anyone to do? Applicants had already paid the non-refundable $30,000 application fee, on top of the $1,500 fee for phase one. Surely the new director had time to go over the whole process that had been happening for the past 3 months in a few weeks to make a decision.

We waited several months to hear phase two results; DPH must have been poring over every detail and checking every bank account and confirming every background check – especially since they have been paid $30,000 per application to review.

January 31, 2014 we got our list of winners, right? Well, it only took about two seconds to realize that all three of former District Attorney William DeLahunt’s applications were approved, along with several other applications that had ties directly to DPH and former state employees as applicants. Questions about the ethics within the department are firing left and right at this point and the media is sounding off in every direction. It looks terrible for the state and good for the MMJ opposition.

DPH then announced that no licenses were issued at any point. Meanwhile, applicants had paid huge application fees and put months of work into these applications and were all vying for the potential to continue the progress to the elusive dispensary license. Now that all the licenses are available to the public, the state representatives and city officials get to read them. Now some city officials are saying they had never met with applicants and had no idea that where the intended location was to be, coming into the spotlight to let us know they don’t support the locations or any dispensary.

Additionally, we have a somewhat broken caregiver system in this state; after DPH changed the regulations for caregivers to only one patient, many went underground. Those who continue to service patients put their homes and lives at risk. Patients can get to ‘Marijuana Doctors’ all over the state, and these doctors’ schedules are so full some patients are finding they have a hard time making a follow-up appointment. People are still having their medical marijuana confiscated from police and under covers, with law enforcement claiming they don’t know about the new laws.

However, some parts of the state are looking great! New England Treatment Access Inc. is building a fortress of marijuana production, complete with tall fences, 24 hour guards, and cameras galore. Springfield is approving zoning regulations and preparing for business. Falmouth is not far behind with their zoning complete, and happy with their approved applicant winning their county.

If DeLeo gets his way who knows if the program will be up before we legalize in 2016, but I sure hope he doesn’t because we need to be taking care of patients. Lucky for us, Governor Deval Patrick is on our side, or at least I believe he would rather see some kind of implementation over the embarrassment of no program at all.

If patients want to also be caregivers and grow their own they should be allowed to and if we don’t open the dispensaries we are holding our legal patients to an uncontrolled black market where they may not get safe medication, they will not be verified adults with medical issues, and they will not have any means of holding the providers to what should be medical standards.

We are a complicated state, but we want this program to work and as long as you get your recommendation you can grow your six plants. Learn how to grow them well, so that you will always have your 60 day supply from your own garden.