SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 31, 2014

State OKs Salem marijuana dispensary

Neil H. Dempsey
STAFF WRITER

SALEM — The state has given a non-profit group the green light to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Grove Street.

Alternative Therapies Group was one of just two applicants in the county and 20 across the state to successfully negotiate the Department of Public Health’s stringent, two-phase application process, which was instituted after voters approved medical marijuana in 2012.

The group’s proposed site is the ground floor of 50 Grove St., a three-story brick building just down the street from the Moose lodge.

However, before Alternative Therapies can open up shop — something it hopes to do by Aug. 1 — it needs to get approval from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The board is scheduled to consider the matter this month.

Chris Edwards, executive director of Alternative Therapies, said yesterday the 4,000-square-foot site would host a pharmacy, patient meeting rooms, a waiting room and office space, in addition to an area for security and product preparation. All of the marijuana sold at the site would be grown at an outside facility, likely in Amesbury.

Edwards said he and his team had met with neighbors of the property and the Mack Park Neighborhood Association.

“Our role has really been educating people about the state’s program and how it differs from other states’ programs,” he said. “We certainly encountered some resistance, but ... typically, we have turned them around. I’m not going to say 100 percent of the time, but pretty regularly.”

Rose Mary O’Connor, chairwoman of the Mack Park Association, agreed with Edwards’ take on the encounter.

“I would say everybody at that meeting did a 360 turnabout from original thoughts on it, myself included,” she said. “Being educated on what it’s all about cleared up a lot of misconceptions.”

O’Connor said the association is not opposed to the dispensary.

“If it can help people with so many diseases, I say let’s have it,” she said. “They’re regular people. They’re easy to talk to and they answer any questions that are put before them.”

City Councilor Beth Gerard said she was happy that her ward was slated to host the dispensary, and that it could help form a “health care corridor” along with Salem Hospital and the proposed senior center at Bridge and Boston streets.

“I think it’s great,” Gerard said. “The people that I’ve spoken with directly are completely fine with it.”

Mayor Kim Driscoll’s office supplied Alternative Therapies with a “letter of non-opposition” during its application process, and Driscoll said yesterday that the non-profit had been vetted by the police department and that everybody involved was satisfied so far.

“They seem to be a pretty professional outfit, from what we can tell,” she said.

Edwards said the fact that marijuana — medical or not — is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government does not worry him because dispensaries in other states have largely avoided trouble so long as they followed state law.

“It seems to me that the federal government has allowed this to operate in this sort of legal gray area,” he said.

In making the announcement yesterday, the DPH stressed the number of jobs that would be created by the dispensaries; Edwards said his site would eventually employ between eight and 12 people, though he does not need that many to open up for business.

The nonprofit’s license will be provisional until an inspection is made by the state right before the dispensary opens its doors, said Edwards. If it passes, the license will then become a full one.

Each dispensary applicant was graded by the state on a scale of 163 possible points. All of the successful applicants scored 137 or above, with the highest coming in at 160. Alternative Therapies scored 149. Two groups had hoped to open dispensaries in Beverly, but failed, scoring 134 and 135. A proposed Ipswich site scored 105.

Statewide, eight applicants that were not approved for their proposed locations were invited to apply to open dispensaries in Berkshire, Franklin, Dukes or Nantucket counties, where there were no successful applicants in this round. One of those dispensaries is Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, the other applicant that had listed Salem as its intended location; it scored 145. Good Chemistry was separately approved to open dispensaries in Worcester and Boston.

Essex County’s other approved dispensary is slated to be run by Healthy Pharms in Haverhill.

The state initially received 181 applications to open dispensaries, 158 of which were given the go-ahead to apply for the second phase of the application process. Of those, only 100 opted to do so, in part, perhaps, because they were required to pay a $30,000 fee and then show they had $500,000 available in cash.

The state could have approved as many as 35 dispensaries.

Alternative Therapies is scheduled to meet with the Gallows Hill neighborhood group on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. at the A.O.H. on Boston Street.

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