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Massachusetts officials on Thursday approved 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses in 19 communities, and invited eight additional applicants to reapply for other locations.
Karen van Unen, director of the state's medical marijuana program, joined WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer to explain how the licenses were awarded.
She said that how evenly the dispensaries would be spread around the state was factored into the selection process.
Karen van Unen: The geographical distribution was absolutely key, but just as important was that we wanted everybody in Massachusetts, every patient in Massachusetts, to have access to high-quality services, and we weren't prepared to settle for applications or corporations and companies that we did not believe would be able to meet the needs of the community and the patients. And the selection committee picked 28 applications that we firmly believe will be able to provide the services in a high-quality, safe and efficient manner to the patients in the locations. The balance of the 100 are not selected at this time to have a provisional license.
Sacha Pfeiffer: Do you assume that eventually you will award all of the 35 that you have the ability to award?
What we're focused on right now is getting the 20 up and running now that we know who they are. The other focus is on getting the four counties who do not have a recommended dispensary — get them set up. And then we are going to focus on operationalizing the program so that we can better understand what the needs are and the demand.
Some of the applicants were from states that already have medical marijuana dispensaries, like California and Colorado. Did they end up having an advantage because they already have experience in this area?
We were asking applicants to respond to items that we believe would make them successful, and certainly management experience was one of them. Having a location was one of them. Their security plans was another one. Their financial capacities, their operating plans, their business plans are all elements that we looked at in the context of geographic equity, access for patients, and support of local community. And based on all those elements, the selection committee made recommendations to myself.
For people who will want to buy medical marijuana from these dispensaries, where does the process stand in terms of registering with the state or whatever else will be required?
That's a key piece. And, especially moving forward as we roll out the program, we will be launching the web-based registration and certification system where physicians need to register so they can certify a patient. Patients who are certified need to register, and then the dispensaries will be able to see if a patient is registered and thus have a certification so they can dispense. And that tool, that registration system, is going to be key as we move forward in informing the business direction and supply and demand.
And when is the soonest you expect one of the licensed dispensaries to open?
That was a key question as part of the application process, and most of the applicants responded that they are looking to open come summer. So we envision that in the summer we'll have some of the dispensaries, some of the 20, at least, be able to open up. And, in fact, even the 8 applicants that will be submitting updated materials, we're hoping to make a decision on those early June.