Medical Marijuana Facilities Struggling For Licenses In Western Massachusetts

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More than two years after the state's voters passed a law allowing medical marijuana, residents of Western Massachusetts still have little hope of seeing a medical marijuana dispensary open in the near future. Currently, there are no applicants being considered to open dispensaries in Berkshire or Hampden counties. A proposed dispensary in Franklin County is still in the licensing phase, while a proposed dispensary in Hampshire County is on "hold."

"For those in Western Mass., we're very concerned," said Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. "Those counties are vacant. You're talking about people having to travel hours to get their medicine. That's unacceptable. It's not what the voters intended when they passed the law."

The dearth of licenses in Western Massachusetts comes as the state has struggled to get medical marijuana dispensaries approved. The state in January announced the preliminary approval of 20 medical marijuana dispensaries. But the media found problems with many of those applications, and after additional vetting, only nine applicants are now in the final inspection phase. The first dispensaries from those nine could open this winter.

The original 20 dispensaries included two in Western Massachusetts - Debilitating Medical Condition Treatment Centers in Holyoke, in Hampden County, and New England Treatment Access in Northampton, in Hampshire County. The state also invited eight applicants to submit new applications for dispensaries in four counties where a dispensary had not been licensed, including Berkshire and Franklin.

But in June, the state declined to issue a license to Debilitating Medical Condition Treatment Centers, which was run by Heriberto Flores, due to findings by the state auditor related to Flores' salary and the use of funds by the New England Farm Workers Council, which Flores runs.

Then in August, the Northampton dispensary license was put "on hold" by the Department of Public Health after the Boston Globe reported that executive director Kevin Fisher lied on his application when he said he graduated from Youngstown State University. The Globe reported that he had attended classes, but not graduated. A spokesman for the Department of Public Health said Monday that the application remains on hold.

The state did move forward with its process for finding new applicants for open counties. As part of that process, Patriot Care Corporation, which is run by former Eastern Mountain Sports president Robert Mayerson and Michael Abbott, who works in financial services, applied for a license to open a dispensary in Greenfield, in Franklin County.

"We think that's important. Even though 97 percent of the population is within 30 miles (of a dispensary), we want to make sure counties are being covered," Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said Monday.

Polanowicz said those licenses are being considered and are likely to be awarded by the end of October. But Polanowicz warned that not all the counties will be covered. "That would be the process for the next iteration of applications sometime next year," Polanowicz said. DPH officials have said the next application process is expected to begin in summer 2015.

Currently, there are no applicants being considered for Berkshire County or, since Flores' license was denied, for Hampden County Spokesmen for the Department of Public Health did not respond to a follow-up question about how Western Massachusetts residents will be within 30 miles of a dispensary, given the current landscape. A map on the DPH website showed that some of the 3 percent of population excluded from the 30-mile radius is in the far end of Western Massachusetts. The map also counted on the Northampton dispensary going forward.

Former State Sen. Andrea Nuciforo, a Pittsfield Democrat, was the clerk for Kind Medical, a medical marijuana dispensary proposed for Easthampton, in Hampshire County. His application was among a handful that received high scores from the state and were deferred when the selections were made in January. Nuciforo says his group met with the Department of Public Health and made a personnel change that the department requested, but the application was still denied. Kind Medical sued the Department of Public Health, and the lawsuit is pending.

"We unfortunately have a case where the department, having had ample strong applications, chose to allow none of them," Nuciforo said. "It's a disservice to patients and unfair to applicants." Nuciforo said he thinks the state should go back and look again at the applicants that received high scores. "The department has a very strong pool of applicants to choose from right now," he said.

Lorraine Kerz, of Greenfield, said she is disappointed in the process. Kerz's 29-year-old son Silas Bennett died of cancer in 2008. He used marijuana to help him cope with nausea and anxiety brought on by his illness and by chemotherapy. "I'm very disappointed things haven't moved forward as quickly as they should, because there are people who really need it," Kerz said.

"I think it's imperative to have access for people in all of the counties," Kerz said. Kerz said it would have been difficult if she had to drive for an hour to two to get marijuana for her son, who was also commuting to Boston for medical treatment. "I think it's not taking into consideration people's needs around this," Kerz said. "It's being treated as if people are using it recreationally, when in fact this is medical use."



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Source: Masslive.com
Author: Shira Schoenberg
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Website: Medical marijuana facilities struggling for licenses in Western Massachusetts | masslive.com