After Massachusetts voters approved the Nov. 2012 ballot question to legalize medical cannabis, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced Friday the names of 20 companies that will receive the first medical cannabis dispensary licenses.
Of Massachusetts’s 14 counties, 10 will have dispensaries. Two companies received licenses to open in Boston: Green Heart Holistic Health and Pharmaceuticals on Southampton Street and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts on Boylston Street.
Nick Martin, the director of communication for the Boston Public Health Commission, said the main concern associated with the legalization of medical cannabis is the potential for abuse. The law will permit patients to grow the substance at home if they are unable to travel to the dispensaries.
“Since the ballot initially passed in Nov. 2012 … we’ve been working closely with the Mayor’s office, with the police department and with the central services department to implement local regulations that would allow us to oversee dispensaries that operate in Boston,” he said.
Martin said he is confident lawmakers will be able to safely regulate the new dispensaries. The BPHC plans to require all dispensaries to offer educational pamphlets to their consumers.
“One of the other things that we did when we passed our local regulation is require that these dispensaries deliver to customers so customers who can’t make it in store will have the option to have their medication delivered,” he said. “[This] is important because it will cut down on the amount of home growth that you see.”
Phase one of the dispensary application process began in early 2013 with 181 applicants. In September, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health narrowed the number of applicants to 158 for the next phase, where a panel chose 100 finalists.
Applications were reviewed and given a score between zero and 163. A selection committee reviewed the remaining applications, gave each applicant a score between zero and 163 and determined which 20 companies would receive a license.
Alex Loftus, communications director for the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, said residents should not worry about the effects of the dispensaries on the community.
“The selection committee looked at appropriateness of the site, ability to serve patients, local support and security,” he said. “[People] can expect that this will be a secure location that complies with all local bylaws and zoning requires. Prior to receiving their final license, they have to demonstrate that they’re meeting all these requirements.”
In addition to the 20 candidates that received licenses, eight companies met the qualifications but could not open dispensaries at the sites they requested.
Loftus said the eight companies will compete for licenses to open dispensaries in Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes and Nantucket, the four counties that do not yet have dispensary locations.
Several residents said they have mixed opinions about the medical cannabis dispensaries in Boston.
Juan Carlos Perez, 34, of Boston, said medical cannabis does not have enough benefits for the dispensaries in Boston to be worthwhile.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s a good thing,” Perez said. “I don’t smoke weed … I think we have plenty of drugs out there. These a lot of alcohol, people buy cigars people buy cigarettes, I don’t think we need another one.”
Catherine Scott, 25, of Allston, said medical cannabis dispensaries should be available if they can be attributed to any health benefits, even if they are minor.
“I don’t have any problem with medical marijuana,” she said. “I don’t know specifically what it treats, but I just don’t have a problem with people using it if it has health benefits.”
Sarah Chudnovsky, 23, of Allston, said the dispensaries are the first step toward a larger conversation about medical cannabis.
“The bigger issue is the criminalization associated with [cannabis],” she said. “It’s really good that we’re pushing forward with making it more accessible and treating it as a part of society because it already is. So not just legalization, but decriminalization too.”