'Picture A Wellness Center,' Envisions Medical Marijuana Dispensary Applicant05:56

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Anyone who wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the state has to submit the first phase of the application to the Department of Public Health on Thursday. DPH hopes to start issuing the first dispensary licenses by the end of the year.

For more on the process, WBUR's Barbara Howard spoke with one of those applying — Catherine Cametti of Walpole. Known as "Rina," she owns a real estate appraisal company and is the mother of an adult daughter.

Cametti says she has no experience with the recreational marijuana culture. But she's now hoping to open a dispensary in Norfolk County — at an industrial park in a town she doesn't want to disclose until the agreement with her prospective landlord is final. Cametti says her interest in the medical marijuana industry only started after the law passed last November.

Catherine “Rina” Cametti is applying to the state to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Norfolk County. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)
Catherine “Rina” Cametti is applying to the state to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Norfolk County. (Lynn Jolicoeur/WBUR)

Catherine "Rina" Cametti: I started doing some research on it. I was very intrigued. [I] became more and more passionate about it. And then it finally dawned on me that, wow, you know, my grandmother died of cancer in her 60s. My boyfriend's mother died of cancer at 51. They both suffered through this terrible time, and that medical marijuana could have helped them and eased their pain in one way or another. And now I want to be able to give back and help other patients with these conditions.

Barbara Howard: I'm sure that there's going to be quite a bit of oversight, as there would be, for example, at a pharmacy, because it's medical marijuana. But it's also marijuana, so it's kind of like a liquor store because you're going to have to be careful who you dispense to. It's hard to wrap a head around exactly what these things are going to look like.

Picture a wellness center. Picture a facility that a patient can walk in, feel very welcoming, feel very safe. They will be able to sit and talk to someone in regards to what their condition is, what they're trying to achieve with the marijuana, and it will be a very patient-focused facility. We will eventually incorporate a holistic side of this, whether it be massage therapy, acupuncture, nutrition.

So the idea of an old head shop is not what people should be thinking of.

Not at all. This is a very legitimate, very up front, very transparent type of facility. The DPH has very strict regulations on what type of signage needs to be on the building. So unless you actually knew that this was there or that you were looking for it, you would not drive by this and say, "Oh, you know, that's a dispensary." You would have to be looking for it.

The first phase of the application process involves a preliminary background check, so in terms of asking whether anyone involved in your company has ever been convicted of drug-related felonies. It also looks at the finances of your company. That full application process, if you get past the first phase, is going to cost $31,500. And then you have to show that you have at least a half million dollars available, either in cash or loan. How difficult has it been trying to get those finances in place and getting cooperation from people involved getting in on this with you?

We have all of our funding all put in place. So we have satisfied the requirement for the DPH.

Is the money coming from individual investors, or corporate investors?

All individual. We're not bringing big corporations in. All individuals, and everyone on our board are all from Massachusetts.

What's been the most difficult thing you've had to overcome to get to this point?

Finding a place would be by far the most difficult, trying to find a town that hasn't gone the route of the moratorium. And then once you have found the actual town that is allowing it, then you have to then find a facility that is in their overlay, their zoning, so that's been the most challenging part.

So were there any other questions raised by potential landlords — a matter of security or other issues?

The landlord had asked us, obviously, about concerns about security. But we explained to them that we would have 24-hour surveillance and it would be tied in with the police department, that we would have a security guard, and that we would go above and beyond the regulations that the DPH has required us to do to make sure that that facility and that building is safe.

Will you be growing the marijuana yourself?

Yes, we will. We will be dispensing and growing at the same location.

I'm sure this has not been a smooth road all the way. So I'm sure there's been some resistance, as there would be in any town — from parents, especially, who might be concerned that this marijuana could get into the wrong hands.

What have you been able to do, or what do you anticipate doing, to reassure people in towns?

Well, every patient will have a medical marijuana card issued through the state. Everything is monitored. It is from a seed-to-patient type of software, so that everything — from the time that it's grown to the time it's dispensed — is monitored. So they cannot purchase more than the restrictions that were placed with the DPH.

What did your family think when you decided to do this?

Originally, in the very beginning, they were a little, like, "What?" And as I explained the benefits of medical marijuana and what the state was doing and the regulations, they were very, very supportive. And I think once you remove the recreational use in your head about this new industry and put it into a different perspective for medicinal purposes, you start to understand that these are patients with debilitating conditions, and that if there is anything that you could give them that wouldn't have side effects or that could ease their pain, why wouldn't you want to be able to do that?

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This program aired on August 21, 2013.