Pubdate: Sat, 16 May 2015
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2015 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Kay Lazar


Massachusetts health authorities Friday dramatically overhauled the 
process for granting licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, 
aiming to streamline the system and remove politics.

Regulators from the administration of Governor Charlie Baker said the 
revamped licensing strips away the subjectivity and secrecy that had 
tainted the system under former governor Deval Patrick's tenure. 
Controversy surrounding the previous system sparked more than two 
dozen lawsuits, leaving patients without any dispensaries 21/2 years 
after voters approved marijuana for medical use.

"This change creates a more streamlined, efficient, and transparent 
process that allows the Commonwealth to maintain the highest 
standards of both public safety and accessibility," Dr. Monica 
Bharel, the state's public health commissioner, said in a statement.

Several marijuana company leaders said they were already prepared to 
reapply, signaling the start of what is likely to be a long line of 
applicants. While the 2012 state law capped the number of licenses 
awarded in the first year to 35, that period is now passed, and 
regulators are free to exceed that limit.

Just 15 dispensaries have received licenses to date, but none has opened.

Under the revised guidelines, dispensaries will be licensed in a 
format similar to other health care facilities, such as pharmacies. 
Each application will be judged on its merits using clear guidelines 
and will move forward when the company meets the overhauled 
standards, officials said. The old system involved scoring, 
essentially pitting applications against each other.

The health department will begin accepting applications June 29, and 
regulators said they will consider them in the order received.

Among the more notable changes: The department will make staff 
available to applicants throughout the process to provide technical 
support, according to the new guidelines. Marijuana company 
executives had complained about a lack of communication by state 
officials during the Patrick administration.

"Kudos to the Baker administration for changing things around that 
make a lot more sense," said Catherine Cametti, known as Rina, a 
Walpole resident whose dispensary application received high marks 
under the old process but then was abruptly derailed by regulators 
when a background check found problems with one member of Cametti's team.

The new system will retain several features from the previous one, 
including required letters of support from the community in which a 
company intends to locate a dispensary, and mandatory background 
checks on nearly everyone associated with a dispensary company.

But this time, the rules specify which offenses in an executive's 
background will prevent the company from including that individual. 
The rules also allow companies to remove the person found to have an 
unsavory past, without jeopardizing the company's application.

Problematic background checks wreaked havoc with the licensing 
process previously. Some companies were inexplicably knocked out of 
the running for problems found with an executive team member's 
background, while others were awarded licenses despite problems.

"The last time, there were so many unknowns, and I felt they were 
changing things as they went along, and there were a couple of curve 
balls thrown in," Cametti said. "To know what you are dealing with 
ahead of time is really important."

Cametti said her company, Beacon Wellness Center, intends to apply 
again, probably in Norfolk County.

The Denver company Good Chemistry also said it intends to reapply. 
Good Chemistry had been awarded provisional licenses for dispensaries 
in Boston and in Worcester, then had them yanked away amid questions 
about the company's local support.

"This appears to be a much more open and fair process," said Jim 
Smith, a Boston attorney who represents Good Chemistry.

Smith said the company retained the site it had selected in Worcester 
for a dispensary, but has not made a decision about whether it would 
apply for an additional location.

Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, the company once led by former US 
representative William D. Delahunt, also appears poised to move 
forward. The firm was stripped of three provisional licenses because 
of questions about its financial structure. Delahunt has since left 
the company.

Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts originally intended to give up to 
50 percent of revenues to a management company run by the same 
executives as the marijuana firm, a plan regulators prohibited after 
it was detailed in the Globe.

Concerns about management structure plagued the old licensing 
process, with some companies losing licenses because they used 
related management firms, while others were allowed to proceed.

The new system provides guidelines about the use of outside 
management companies, suggesting that the marijuana companies keep 
management payments reasonable and within "fair market" values.

Jonathan Herlihy, chief executive of Medical Marijuana of 
Massachusetts, applauded the guidelines.

"Overall, I would say this new system is very, very good," Herlihy said.

His company was one of dozens that sued state regulators over the 
licensing process, and a judge last month ordered officials to let 
Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts go ahead with plans to open 
dispensaries in Mashpee and Plymouth, ruling it was improperly 
stripped of licenses last year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom