State OKs Northampton medical marijuana dispensary

Last modified: Tuesday, February 04, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The company awarded a state license to operate Hampshire County’s only medical marijuana dispensary plans to begin selling pot to qualified patients in August.

The Department of Public Health on Friday awarded 20 licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries in 10 of the state’s 14 counties. Hampshire County’s license went to New England Treatment Access Inc., which will open a dispensary at the old Pro Corp. manufacturing plant at 296 Nonotuck St. in Florence, said Kevin Fisher, executive director and chief operating officer.

“We’re planning to hit the ground running as soon as possible,” Fisher said.

New England Treatment beat out three other companies that sought to open dispensaries in either Northampton or Easthampton. The company, which will grow marijuana at a facility in Franklin, also secured a license to open a dispensary in Brookline.

New England Treatment has the backing of the Kessler family, known in eastern Massachusetts for medical philanthropy, and the support of former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, according to its application.

Meanwhile, a Department of Public Health selection committee that reviewed 100 applications over the last several weeks ruled that four counties, including Franklin and Berkshire, will not get dispensaries at this time. Though the voter-approved law requires at least one dispensary in each county, the selection committee deemed that Berkshire, Dukes, Franklin and Nantucket counties did not have qualified applicants.

That leaves two dispensaries serving the 824,000 people who live in the four counties of western Massachusetts. The Hampden County dispensary will be in Holyoke and operated by Debilitating Medical Condition Treatment Centers Inc., according to the state.

The selection committee has invited eight qualified applicants that were not granted licenses Friday for their original proposed locations to amend their bids to include a site in a county without a dispensary. Among those are Patriot Care Corp., which applied to open a dispensary in Northampton and a growing facility in South Hadley.

“These recommendations are based on objective benchmarks including geographic dispersion, patient access, security and readiness to operate,” John Carmichael Jr., Walpole’s deputy police chief and a selection committee member, said in a statement. “The citizens of the commonwealth can be assured that this process was thoroughly and accurately vetted.”

New England Treatment’s score of 155 points — out of a possible 163 — was the second-highest, behind the 160 score posted by Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts Inc. The scores were based on many factors, including public health, security and strength of the business plan. Other criteria the committee used to judge applications included local support, geographic diversity and the ability to meet patient needs.

“We’re pleased with the score we received,” Fisher said. “We worked hard in the two jurisdictions to engage the authorities throughout the process.”

Fisher said his group has a strong background in the industry, having operated similar facilities in Colorado. Fisher runs a medical marijuana center and a retail marijuana outlet in Colorado under the name Rocky Mountain Remedies. It also has secured leases and completed architectural drawings for its three Massachusetts locations in advance of Friday’s announcement.

New England Treatment will convert about 2,500 square feet of space in the old Pro Corp. building into a dispensary. The building also houses the headquarters of Tapestry Health, a Northampton community-based health care organization that runs eight health centers and needle exchange and nutrition programs throughout the region.

Leslie Tarr Laurie, Tapestry Health’s founder and leader for 40 years before her resignation in recent days, serves on the executive management team at New England Treatment. Fisher said Laurie’s expertise in successfully providing health services in Northampton is valuable for the group. He noted Laurie’s efforts to introduce controversial initiatives, such as a needle exchange, in the community.

“It’s symbiosis for us to be working with her,” Fisher said. “I couldn’t ask for someone better.”

New England Treatment’s dispensary, located near a Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus route, will be open 10 hours a day nearly every day of the year. The company expects to hire about 25 people to operate the dispensary, and between 100 and 150 people for its entire operation. Though not required to do so by the state, New England Treatment will require all employees to go through a “robust” training course and background check, Fisher said.

Fisher said the dispensary will be secure. Customers will enter through an outside door but will not have access to the interior of the site where the marijuana is kept. Initial plans do not call for a on-site security personnel.

“We’ll work closely with local law enforcement,” Fisher said. “If they think we need live law enforcement, we’ll do that.”

In its application to the state, the company said it anticipates 1,660 patients and some 2,000 pounds of inventory in its first year. The company predicts it will generate $9.8 million in revenue in its first year and spend $9.1 million, leaving a net profit of $702,000.

Other bidders

The selection panel favored New England Treatment over three other groups that wanted to open dispensaries in Hampshire County — two that eyed Northampton and one in Easthampton.

One of those groups was Hampshire Health Inc., a Northampton nonprofit led by Brian F. Foote. Hampshire Health applied to open a dispensary in the space formerly occupied by Pioneer Valley Family Medicine at 118 Conz St.

While disappointed at not being selected, Foote said Hampshire Health is “definitely interested” in pursuing a future license should the state open another round of applications. He said the four groups that applied for Hampshire County in the second phase all scored well.

“It was really a stiff competition,” Foote said. “We were up against some really big groups with expertise.”

In addition to New England Treatment and Hampshire Health, the other two companies that applied in Hampshire County were Patriot Care Corp., led by Robert Mayerson of Harvard, and Kind Medical Inc., a Pittsfield nonprofit headed by Dr. Joseph P. Keenan of Westfield and former state Sen. Andrea F. Nuciforo Jr.

Patriot Care sought to open a dispensary in Northampton and a growing facility in South Hadley, while Kind Medical applied for a growing operation and dispensary in the former Yankee Plastics building at 142 Pleasant St. in Easthampton.