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State health officials unveil new marijuana dispensary rules in effort to streamline process

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BOSTON — The Department of Public Health is unveiling changes to the way it issues licenses under the state's medical marijuana dispensary program.

The changes outlined Friday include a revamped application process that allows marijuana dispensaries to be approved similar to how other health care facilities, such as pharmacies, are licensed.

Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the changes to the licensing procedures are critical to get the program up and running.

"This change creates a more streamlined, efficient and transparent process that allows the commonwealth to maintain the highest standards of both public safety and accessibility," Bharel said in a written statement.

Under the new process, dispensaries will be evaluated individually, not as part of a group. They must show local support, or a lack of opposition, before being approved. Fees will stay the same.

Applications will be accepted beginning June 29.

Any existing certifications and decisions made last year remain in effect.

Kevin Gilnack, head of a trade association representing dispensaries, praised the effort to streamline the process.

"The integrity of this program and its participants is paramount and we are pleased to see that the DPH has retained high standards for dispensaries that will foster a responsible, professional industry," Gilnack said in a statement.

The process of opening marijuana dispensaries has become bogged down in the licensing phase since Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question more than two years ago.

The vote allowed up to 35 outlets to sell marijuana to qualifying patients, including people suffering from cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

The state has issued only three certificates of registration.

The first was given in 2014 to Alternative Therapies Group in Salem. A second certificate was issued to New England Treatment Access Inc. to operate a marijuana dispensary in Northampton. A third was given to In Good Health in Brockton to grow marijuana for medicinal use.

So far, no dispensaries have opened.

Medical marijuana advocates have expressed frustration, saying the delays have harmed people whose suffering could be eased with marijuana.


Online: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/hcq/medical-marijuana/

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