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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has given three companies provisional approval to open four medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.
Patriot Care Corp., which already has a Lowell dispensary in the works, was approved for dispensaries at 21 Milk St. in Boston and 7 Legion Ave. in Greenfield. Coastal Compassion Inc.'s proposed facility at 2 Pequod Rd. in Fairhaven and Mass Medicum Corp.'s on Revolutionary Drive in Taunton were also approved to enter the inspection and permitting phase.
The four dispensaries are proposed in counties that did not previously have any provisionally approved medical marijuana dispensaries.
Eleven other dispensaries that have already been provisionally approved are currently going through the permitting and inspection process. No dispensaries have received final registration certificates yet.
"We're really in a fabulous spot," in terms of the progress DPH is making, medical marijuana program director Karen van Unen said. She added that the first dispensaries are expected to open in late winter.
But the program is considerably behind timetables set under the state law approved by Massachusetts voters in November 2012. DPH has come under fire from patient advocates who say the state isn’t doing enough to ensure patient access to medical marijuana.
As WBUR's Lynn Jolicoeur reported earlier this year, the DPH has faced widespread criticism for not thoroughly vetting applicants before provisionally approving 20 dispensaries in January:
After revelations of false or misleading claims on applications, and accusations of political favoritism, DPH launched a more thorough verification process and nine of the original 20 dispensaries were eliminated.
There are still no planned medical marijuana dispensaries for four counties -- Dukes, Nantucket, Berkshire and Hampden. By law, each county is required to have at least one, but no more than five, dispensaries. There's also a large swath of the state including Worcester and the surrounding area that has no planned dispensary.
Van Unen acknowledged she's concerned about the slower-than-expected rollout of the medical marijuana program.
"It's just as important to us as it is to patients to make sure that access is there, but we also felt very strongly that we need to do this diligently and do it right," van Unen told WBUR. "We're able to now start focusing on how we're going to move forward to ensure that we meet the voters' will and ensure that we have at least one dispensary in every county, as well as serving the under-served areas."
DPH recently unveiled its physician and patient medical marijuana registration program and plans to report its first data in February, which van Unen says will allow the agency to better pinpoint areas that need dispensaries.
The state plans to open a new round of dispensary applications sometime next year.
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