Medical Marijuana Licensing Process Can Proceed, Judge Rules

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A state judge has rejected efforts to temporarily halt Massachusetts' process for licensing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Mary K. Ames denied requests by three potential medical marijuana providers to issue a preliminary injunction preventing the state from finalizing the licensing process until their cases are adjudicated, according to recent documents filed in the cases.

The three companies — 1 Releaf Inc., Apex Compassion & Wellness Center and the Striar Center for Compassionate Care — had been among 100 applicants for a state dispensary license, but were not among the 20 chosen by the state Department of Public Health to earn a "provisional" license in January.

At least two other companies — the Timothy Walsh Foundation and Prospect Lake Inc. — have also filed suit challenging the process, which the public health department hopes to complete this summer.

Public Health Department spokesman David Kibbe said officials are still vetting the remaining 20 applicants, a process that includes background checks on anyone involved with the proposed dispensaries.

Massachusetts' medical marijuana law, which took effect in January 2013, allows for up to 35 state-licensed dispensaries authorized to grow and sell marijuana to qualified patients for the treatment of cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and other ailments.

In her ruling, Ames said the three companies had not shown they would face irreparable harm if the state continued to vet the remaining applicants. Even if the state issues final approval to all 20 provisional license holders before the cases are decided, there will still be 15 more marijuana licenses the plaintiffs could seek under state law, Ames wrote.

Jonathan Rutley, a lawyer representing the Apex Compassion & Wellness Center and the Striar Center for Compassionate Care, said this week that his clients will continue pursuing their lawsuits.

He said they will push for the state to disclose the full, un-redacted applications from companies seeking a dispensary license, as well as documents related to the scoring of applicants.

In their separate lawsuits, the Timothy Walsh Foundation and Prospect Lake Inc. claim the process for scoring applications was arbitrary and flawed.

Specifically, the Timothy Walsh Foundation questions the award of a provisional license in Plymouth County to Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, Inc., a group backed by former Congressman William Delahunt that won three of the 20 total provisional licenses issued. Prospect Lake Inc., meanwhile, challenges the department's decision not to award a provisional license to any of the initial applicants in Berkshire County.

"We believe the best possible providers should be licensed to get up and running," Michael Cutler, an attorney for the plaintiffs said this week. "We question — at least in the cases of Berkshire County and Plymouth County — whether that's happened."