SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 1, 2014

Medical marijuana dispensary sites still a mystery

One applicant eyes Aug. 1 opening date

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — The two nonprofits hoping to open medical marijuana dispensaries in the city are keeping quiet about exactly where they intend to set up shop.

Alternative Therapies Group and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts have both entered the second and final phase of the state’s application process to open a dispensary, the results of which are expected to be announced at some point after the end of this month.

Phase two applicants will be judged in part on the appropriateness of their proposed site, and each was expected to have identified feasible locations to the state as part of the application process.

Christopher Edwards, executive director of Alternative Therapies, recently declined to identify the address of his nonprofit’s proposed site but said it was “a matter of minutes from Route 114” in an area that was appropriately zoned and not downtown. Alternative Therapies has already signed a lease for the property, though it’s conditional upon the nonprofit receiving a license from the state and a permit from the city.

Under local law, dispensaries are considered medical clinics, thus restricting their potential location and requiring them to obtain a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Alternative Therapies aims to apply for that permit this month, before the decision about its license has been made, so that it can be on the board’s agenda for February.

Edwards said he was withholding the tentative location of the dispensary — which could open on Aug. 1, if all goes as planned — because the nonprofit hadn’t yet reached out to the site’s neighbors, some of which are residences. He said the location was chosen with an eye on making it easy for patients across the region to access it.

“It’s no secret that Salem is not the easiest place to get in and out of at times,” he said.

As for why Salem itself, Edwards said the city was “ground zero to a large percentage of the south Essex County population” and that Alternative Therapies had “wanted to find a good fit with a municipality in terms of philosophy.”

“It’s a progressive leadership; they understand the intent of the law that was passed, and they intend to take a lead position on this relative to some of their neighbors,” he said. “They were very willing to work with us.”

Edwards said he’d been in touch with local police, city councilors and Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office, which supplied “letters of non-opposition” to both Alternative Therapies and Good Chemistry for their phase two applications.

Alternative Therapies has a list of backup locations in Salem should the first choice not work out.

Marijuana dispensed by the nonprofit would actually be grown at a facility in Amesbury.

Good Chemistry declined to comment for this article. In addition to Salem, it has submitted phase two applications to open dispensaries in Worcester and Boston.

Statewide, up to 35 dispensaries will receive licenses, with a maximum of five per county and a minimum of one. Seven nonprofits are currently vying to open locations in Essex County — including two in Beverly and one in Ipswich.

Fewer than half the county’s applicants who were eligible to apply for phase two actually did so, likely in part because of the state’s stringent financial requirements. The fee for the second-phase applicants was $30,000, whereas the fee for the first was $1,500.

The state also required each applicant show it had $500,000 in cash for the first dispensary it hoped to open and $400,000 for each additional one.

Neil Dempsey can be reached at ndempsey@salemnews.com.