First medical marijuana dispensary in western Massachusetts opens



Last modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Standing against his car with a white paper bag in his hand, Kenny Flanders of Pittsfield searches for the right words to describe what medical marijuana has done for him.

“I got a life,” he said.

Flanders, 59, was among dozens of patients from around the region who traveled to the New England Treatment Access medical marijuana dispensary at 118 Conz St. on Monday, the first day it opened for business.

New England Treatment Access spokesman and consultant Norton Arbelaez, of Franklin, said the company has been working toward opening day for three years.

“It’s a historic day for western Massachusetts,” he said.

It is the first dispensary approved by the state Department of Public Health in the region. There are now two others in the state, Alternative Therapies Group in Salem and In Good Health in Brockton, with more to open in the coming months.

Arbelaez said it is the first dispensary to sell medical marijuana as a “non-flower product,” or in forms that do not need to be smoked, such as pills, lotions and lozenges.

The company will host a grand opening celebration at 11 a.m. Friday outside the dispensary with Mayor David Narkewicz.

“I know that for those patients that have been waiting for access to this important alternative form of treatment, it’s a great week for them,” Narkewicz said.

Flanders said he takes medical marijuana for numerous chronic conditions, including osteoporosis, hepatitis C and nerve damage.

“This has made me able to deal with it,” he said. “It takes the pain away, not 100 percent, but I’d say 80 percent.”

Patients entered the building at a steady pace early Monday afternoon, but did not form a line. They left with medicines in bags. Several said they were uncomfortable sharing their experiences publicly, but more than one patient said that since taking marijuana, they have been able to stop taking several other medications.

The nondescript brick building has a modern feel inside. There is minimal lighting and green panels line the walls. Flat TV screens display information. Patients are presented with a menu of options, and staff can help them decide which strain is most helpful and how it should be taken. Patients who already know what they need can go to a line marked “Express.”

Arbelaez said the office currently employs around 20 people, but that it will eventually have 25. New England Treatment Access grows all of the marijuana it sells at a facility in Franklin, and plans to open another dispensary in Brookline. It employs more than 100 people across the state, Arbelaez said.

The office also had informational literature available for the public. Fliers and pamphlets describe the process for a patient to obtain medical marijuana, starting with being certified by a doctor. The literature states that if a family doctor is unable to give certification, a patient can search the Internet for “MA Medical Marijuana Doctors.”

Once patients are certified, they need to register with the state Department of Public Health to receive an identification card for the Medical Use of Marijuana Program.

Patients must show this card at the Northampton dispensary to gain access, and visitors who are not patients must be escorted inside. Staff at the dispensary other than Arbelaez were not permitted to talk to the media Monday.

Arbelaez said misconceptions about medical marijuana dispensaries include that their presence makes it easier for people to obtain the drug unlawfully and that the medicine must be smoked.

He said the company has worked closely with the Northampton mayor and police chief in preparation for opening the dispensary, and emphasized that he would like to thank the city for its support.

“It shows just how generous and just how compassionate Northampton is,” he said.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.


 


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