Massachusetts health officials have launched the application process for nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries.
A law approved by voters last November allows for up to 35 dispensaries around the state to provide marijuana for people with certified medical conditions such as cancer, Parkinson's disease and AIDS.
Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett said her agency has created a "solid regulatory framework" and is ready to move ahead.
"We are committed to a fully transparent process that respects patient needs while ensuring safe communities," Bartlett said Friday.
Bartlett said there will be a two-step application procedure for selecting dispensary operators.
In the first phase, regulators will review each applicant's financial viability and conduct background checks. Applicants must report if any member of their organization has been subject to a felony drug conviction.
Those who clear the initial screening can move on to a second phase where a selection committee will review final applications.
The committee will score applications based on factors like the appropriateness of the site, the geographical distribution of dispensaries, local support, and the applicant's ability to meet the health needs of registered patients, while ensuring public safety.
Prospective marijuana dispensaries must pay $1,500 to apply during the initial phase. If they clear that hurdle, they will have to pay an additional $30,000 for the second phase of the process. Both fees are non-refundable.
Dispensaries that are ultimately selected will be required to pay a $50,000 annual fee for a certificate of registration. There will also be a $500 annual registration fee for each dispensary agent.
The Department of Public Health will use the fees to cover operational expenses, including hiring staff and training inspectors. The voter-approved law is required to be revenue neutral, and fees are established at levels to cover all estimated operating costs.
Once the registration system is up and running, qualifying patients will pay a $50 annual registration fee. Patients who can demonstrate a financial hardship can request a waiver. Caregivers will not pay a fee.
Bartlett said the fee structure was established after a series of hearings and a public comment period. She said the fees are in line with other states and will be affordable to patients.
"At the same time, dispensaries will be required to pay their fair share to support this program, so we do not rely on taxpayer resources," Bartlett said.
The new policy was unveiled a day after another Massachusetts town sought to block the establishment of marijuana dispensaries.
The Palmer council approved a temporary moratorium on the siting of any dispensaries while officials study the issue and try to determine where such a facility could be located.
A growing number of communities have adopted temporary moratoriums or passed zoning rules that restrict where the dispensaries can go.
Attorney General Martha Coakley has ruled that towns cannot ban the facilities outright.
The applications are available at www.comm-pass.com.
This program aired on August 2, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.