SALEM — The state Department of Public Health has approved the first medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts, and it will be in Salem.

State officials announced Wednesday that the proposal by Alternative Therapies Group to open a dispensary at 50 Grove St. has been approved. Marijuana for the clinic will be cultivated at 10 Industrial Way in Amesbury.

The certificate of registration allows Alternative Therapies to start growing medical marijuana. It's a process that could take months.

Before Alternative Therapies starts selling medical pot to patients, or transporting it, however, the dispensary will be subject to further oversight, "including inspections of its transportation plans and testing of its plants once they are grown."

"Selecting dispensaries that meet our high standards takes time," state Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz said in a statement. "But ensuring a launch of this new industry the right way for the people of Massachusetts is a top priority."

Mayor Kim Driscoll said she was "very pleased that Alternative Therapies has received the first certificate of registration in the commonwealth. From the outset, the team at ATG has been forthright and professional." The mayor said the company went out of its way to meet with neighbors, city officials and others in Salem to "explain what they will be doing."

Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray also issued a statement, saying, "Throughout the entire process, I have been impressed with the management team at ATG. They have been cooperative and professional. I am happy to see them reach this milestone, and I look forward to seeing ATG develop as a positive contributor to the Amesbury community."

Scott Zoback, a spokesman for the Department of Public Health, said Alternative Therapies was the first to be approved to operate because it was the first dispensary to move through the inspection phase. The approval allows Alternative Therapies to start growing, but Zoback could not say when the company would be ready to start dispensing medical marijuana. 

The dispensary location is in an isolated commercial area off Harmony Grove Road, near Harmony Grove Cemetery and the North River. It's not far from homes on Mason Street. It's also in the vicinity of Mack Park.

State officials said they visited the proposed clinic site, as well as the cultivation site, and reviewed floor plans, security, and cultivation operation "to ensure product safety and quality; security, storage and transportation standards; and responsiveness to patient needs."

It has been a long row to hoe to bring medical marijuana to Massachusetts since a state ballot initiative was approved in November 2012 by 63 percent of Bay State voters.

In Salem, the proposed dispensary provoked little opposition.

"We have had a robust public conversation around medical marijuana in Salem — starting with the ballot question, which was overwhelmingly approved here, and all the way through last year's City Council debate, Board of Appeals hearing, and neighborhood group meetings," Driscoll said in a statement. 

"Salem has long been a progressive, forward-thinking, and open-minded community, and we look forward to ATG starting operation and providing yet another critical medical choice to patients from the entire North Shore."

Alternative Therapies has been through a long, arduous state and local process. But the company was able to court city officials, state lawmakers and even the Mack Park Neighborhood Association along the way. 

In February, it cleared a major hurdle with the city with the approval of a Zoning Board of Appeals special permit. The nonprofit at first offered to donate $50,000 a year to the city, but later, the host agreement gave the city 1.25 percent of the nonprofit’s yearly gross revenue, a rate that rises to 2 percent after two years. The city's first year would be about $103,000.

In June, Alternative Therapies was spared when the state Department of Public Health eliminated nearly half the applicants it had initially approved to open, after a verification process found problems with those other applications. This verification process set back the timetable for when dispensaries would open. Alternative Therapies had planned to open by Aug. 1, 2014.

“We’re happy with the results,” company president Chris Edwards said at the time. “We’re eager to move forward with our business plan.”

The next step for Alternative Therapies and the 10 other dispensaries was the inspection phase by the state Department of Public Health, with the Salem dispensary the first to move through this phase.

Alternative Therapies' cultivation site was approved by the Amesbury Planning Board in August.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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