Massachusetts Revises Dispensary Licensing Process

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in charge of implementing the state’s troubled medical marijuana dispensary program, said today it has revamped the licensing format for MMJ businesses so it’s similar to the one used for pharmacies.

The revised application process – to launch on May 15 – will establish “safety and suitability standards” that must be met by dispensaries, particularly with regards to security and background checks, the health department said in a release. Each dispensary will be evaluated on its ability to meet the standards.

The change will not affect the 15 applicants that have already received provisional certification from the state to open up dispensaries. Rather, the new process will be used when awarding additional licenses going forward.

The goal, the department said, is to make the licensing process more transparent and ensure patients have “safe access” to marijuana.

The rollout of the state’s dispensary program has been fraught with problems. The original procedure awarded 20 licenses to would-be dispensaries, but media reports showed some of those were given to people who had lied on their applications or were in a position of power that could potentially influence those who decided to whom licenses would be issued.

A Boston Globe investigation said the licensing process was flawed from the start thanks to conflicts of interest, shortcomings in vetting applicants and issues involving contractors, all of which could lead to lawsuits against the state.

Monica Bharel , commissioner of the state’s health department, said in Wednesday’s press release that the old system was a “confusing, overly lengthy process that has delayed appropriate patients from getting access” to medical cannabis. The new process will be more efficient and market-driven, she said.