The DPH says it is committed to developing a thorough set of guidelines so that the state will not end up with problems seen in other states, including California and Colorado, where hundreds of dispensaries have opened and prompted complaints about misuse of medical marijuana and increased crime.
“We have the benefit that we are not the first state doing this; there are 17 other states that have done this, including some neighbors — Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine — so we don’t have to do this completely in the dark,” said Dr. Lauren Smith, interim DPH commissioner.
“We can look at what has worked well and what hasn’t worked well in other states and then determine what will work best here in Massachusetts.”
The new law limits the number of dispensaries to no more than 35 in the first year, but says the DPH could allow more after 2013.
The state’s legalization of medical marijuana has spawned an influx of consultants, attorneys and medical technology companies into Massachusetts.
Dr. Bruce Bedrick, chief executive of MedBox Inc., opened an office in Natick soon after the ballot question was approved. His company offers consulting services and dispensing systems to people interested in opening dispensaries in Massachusetts.
The company’s technology requires patients to do a fingerprint scan in order to get their doctor-prescribed quantity of marijuana. The software also allows a dispensary to track when the patient’s prescription expires. Bedrick said MedBox now has more than 100 dispensing systems — which look similar to vending machines — in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Canada. Only dispensary employees have access to the boxes, which are located in a locked room in the dispensaries.
Bedrick said he has received a great deal of interest since he set up an office in Massachusetts.
“I would expect hundreds of people to apply for the (dispensary) license ultimately,” Bedrick said. “It’s a brand-new industry. It offers a tremendous amount of opportunity. I think this is only going to be positive for the economy of Massachusetts ... and certainly most importantly for the people who need the medicine.”