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Massachusetts' first medical marijuana dispensary will be allowed to open, but for limited sales, while the state reviews safety standards.
Marijuana grown so far tests for lead higher than allowed in Massachusetts, and the state says labs are not equipped to test for seven of 18 restricted pesticides. But the Baker administration will let Alternative Therapy Group, a proposed dispensary in Salem, open as long as it limits each patient to 4.23 ounces and instructs patients to consume no more than two grams a day.
"Patients have waited to access marijuana for medical purposes for far too long," Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. "This waiver will allow industry laboratories a little more time to reach full operation while providing safe amounts of medical marijuana for qualifying patients who need it."
Baker approved a one-time, three month waiver from the safety requirements.
"We carefully considered the initial testing results and we will review the standards going forward," Dr. Monica Bharel, the Department of Public Health (DPH) commissioner, said in the statement.
The state’s dispensary trade group says the main problem is that the state assumes patients will ingest 1 ounce of marijuana a day, or 28 grams, whereas patients consume 2.5 grams a day, on average. The state’s lead levels would be realistic if the state lowered the amount of marijuana it expects patients to consume.
"Massachusetts has the most conservative standards in the nation,” said Kevin Gilnack, director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association. “We're going to be looking to work with DPH to establish standards that ensure patient access but protect patient safety. I think we can take a look at what some of the other states around the country have done.”
Now that marijuana has been cleared for sale through a dispensary for the first time in Massachusetts, DPH will conduct a final inspection of the store in Salem. If the dispensary passes inspection, it could open next week.
The Massachusetts Medical Society has expressed concerns about contaminants in marijuana that would be especially harmful for sick patients.
Said the group's president, Dennis Dimitri, in a statement: "In previous discussions with the Department of Public Health, we expressed a concern that the state’s medical marijuana program should include insuring a supply of a medicinal grade product with the purity and freedom from contaminants that is implied by the use of medical in describing marijuana. That remains our concern today."
This post was updated with additional content at 3:15 p.m.
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