SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 8, 2014

Medical marijuana dispensary opening delayed

State verification process holds up Alternative Therapies' startup

By Neil H. Dempsey
Staff Writer

---- — SALEM — Bad news for patients who were hoping to buy medical marijuana this summer from the dispensary coming to Grove Street — it won’t be open yet.

In fact, it might not even open this year.

Alternative Therapies originally intended to be up and running by Aug. 1, but the dispensary now says that’s been pushed back until late this year or early next year.

The reason? The state Department of Public Health is still verifying information submitted by the dispensaries it approved earlier this year, and the process has taken longer than expected.

That’s left dispensary operators with little way to move forward on long-term plans, since so many of the hurdles to becoming fully licensed are dependent on previous ones.

For instance, in order to sell marijuana, Alternative Therapies has to grow it first. That process takes months, but the dispensary can’t begin until the state has done a “grow-ready inspection.” And that step can’t be tackled until the dispensary passes an “initial inspection,” which itself is dependent upon the verification process.

Even once Alternative Therapies is allowed to grow marijuana, it will still need to pass two more state inspections before it can actually sell it to patients.

Alternative Therapies declined to comment, beyond confirming that the delay in opening is due to the “extended verification process.”

In February, after it announced the winning dispensary applicants, the DPH detailed the steps each would need to take to become fully licensed. They included the “verification phase,” a process in which the DPH would verify letters of support submitted on behalf of applicants, and the group’s meetings with municipalities. Also reviewed would be dispensary sites and operational plans, including the group’s management members and the board of directors.

Statewide, several groups have been accused of misrepresenting themselves or their local support in their dispensary applications, something the verification process was expected to address. Alternative Therapies has not encountered any such issues.

According to the DPH website, that process was slated for March, meaning it’s at least a month behind schedule. In Salem, the DPH has verified that Alternative Therapies met with the city’s police chief, health agent and solicitor, but it hasn’t yet verified that the group met with the building inspector and city planner, said Dominick Pangallo, Mayor Kim Driscoll’s chief of staff.

Nor has the agency verified that the mayor sent a letter of non-opposition on behalf of the dispensary or that her staff met with the group.

A DPH spokesperson declined to comment and instead forwarded a statement that had been circulated in the media earlier in the week:

“DPH’s focus is on striking the appropriate balance between ensuring patient access and public safety. To that end, we are engaged in a process of fully verifying all information and operational plans submitted by dispensary applicants. That process takes time.”

Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana in 2012.

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