Hundreds of patients lined up outside the newly-opened Alternative Therapies Group building last month to get their chance to finally fill medical marijuana prescriptions for a number of ailments. Out of the 35 statewide dispensaries in Massachusetts, Alternative Therapies Group is the first dispensary to open in the state, despite the myriad of red tape and legislation issues that the industry has had to deal with for the last three years. Other dispensaries have received approval to begin the growing process of their business, but without legal approval to sell their product they cannot open their doors to patients.
The dispensary is located in a converted factory in Salem and is currently only accepting patient consultations with a confirmed appointment. One thing that stands out about the Alternative Therapies Group dispensary is that there are no displays that house the company’s product; instead, customers view their options on a computer screen and make their selections from there.
“People may have a perception that there is marijuana sitting out and around and that is not the case,” explains Salem Police Chief Mary Butler.
The dispensary doesn’t grow or process any of their products at this site; they utilize their cultivation facility (not currently open to the public) located in Amesbury for these purposes.
According to the state Department of Public Health, Alternative Therapies Group is the only dispensary that has received the temporary waiver to begin operations thus far. This waiver allows the group to sell up to 4.23 ounces of medical marijuana to qualifying patients for their 60-day supply and instructs that the dispensary “must provide patients with instructions to consume no more than 2 grams per day.”
Other than Alternative Therapies Group, two other dispensaries have applied for the waiver, including In Good Health, Inc. located in Brockton and New England Treatment Access in Northampton. The applications for the waivers for these two establishments are currently in progress and they could soon be joining Alternative Therapies Group in the small number of dispensaries available to Massachusetts patients.
For the past three years, dispensaries throughout the state have had a number of problems in opening their doors due to extremely strict testing standards required for cannabis to be deemed safe for sale. These standards are set so high that even naturally occurring amounts of the chemicals tested for are too much for the product to be considered safe for sale.
Due to limitations of laboratory equipment, the Department of Health was unable to check for seven out of the 18 required chemical and pesticide tests. The waiver, however, allows for the business to begin selling cannabis so long as it includes a label explaining the chemicals it was not tested for.
“We carefully considered the initial testing results and we will review the standards going forward,” said Dr. Monica Bharel, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health. “We believe these levels provide for patient health protections while allowing the first dispensary to distribute marijuana for medical use as voted on in 2012.”
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