By CHAD CAIN
Daily Hampshire Gazette
NORTHAMPTON – Northampton is poised to host the only medical marijuana dispensary for the 824,000 people who live in western Massachusetts after the state Department of Public Health announced Friday that it would not allow a proposal for Holyoke to move forward.
State officials said that 10 firms proposing to open 11 dispensaries statewide can proceed to the next phase of the process, including the plan by New England Treatment Access to open at 118 Conz St. in Northampton this fall. New England Treatment also received a green light to move ahead in Brookline.
These firms advance to an “inspection phase” after successfully completing the department’s verification phase that included enhanced background checks and information verification.
When it awarded 20 licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries in 10 of the state’s 14 counties in January, Department of Public Health officials said those approvals hinged on further reviews of the applications. Based on those investigations, six other firms which proposed nine dispensaries statewide were denied permits.
Among those are Debilitating Medical Condition Treatment Centers Inc., which had eyed a dispensary at 181 Appleton St. near downtown Holyoke. The state said it had doubts about business owner Heriberto Flores following a state audit this spring.
A group wanting to open a dispensary in Worcester was also eliminated Friday. That means the next closest dispensary to Northampton would be in the central Massachusetts town of Milford.
During the verification process, the Department of Public Health hired Creative Services Inc. to complete 176 more extensive individual and corporate background checks on investors, staff and related companies, and conduct interviews with applicants to verify information submitted as part of their applications.
Additionally, the Department of Public Health contacted more than 200 individuals to verify applicants’ representation of local support. The department also closely reviewed each applicant’s business and operational plans, investor lists, source of funds and investments and information resulting from any background checks.
“This process is designed to ensure only the highest quality applicants advance to meet the patient access and public safety needs of the Commonwealth,” said Karen van Unen, executive director of the state’s medical marijuana program. “Those advancing have passed comprehensive background checks and investigative reviews. Prior to opening, each must comply with all inspection and municipal requirements.”
Next up for those firms moving on is the inspection phase. Before dispensaries are allowed to open, the Department of Public Health will conduct inspections on grow-readiness, and processing and retail-readiness to ensure product safety and quality, security, storage and transportation and responsiveness to patient needs.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Health has identified five applicants eligible to apply for dispensaries in counties where none have been approved, including Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire. The application process for those seeking to operate in these counties will begin July 9, with selections scheduled for October.
New England Treatment Access plans to open its Northampton dispensary in the former Pioneer Valley Family Medicine office building at 118 Conz St., not far from Interstate 91. The Planning Board approved a site plan for the dispensary in May. It will grow marijuana at a cultivating plant in Franklin.
Earlier this spring, the company said the dispensary would be open 10 hours daily nearly every day of the year. It expects to hire about 25 people to operate the dispensary, and between 100 and 150 people for its entire operation. In addition to Fisher, New England Treatment’s leadership includes Arnon Vered, chief financial officer, and Leslie Tarr Laurie, Tapestry Health’s founder and leader for 40 years before her resignation in January.
By CHAD CAIN