Public Health Veteran to Oversee Massachusetts MMJ Program

An executive with experience running local hospitals and nonprofit health organizations will serve as Massachusetts’ new medical marijuana czar.

The state’s health department announced Monday that it has selected Karen van Unen to serve as executive director of its medical cannabis program.

One of her first big tasks: help determine who gets licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries. About 100 applicants are still in the running for licenses, and the state expects to name finalists by the end of the month.  A selection committee will make initial recommendations on which groups should get licenses, but van Unen will make the final call.

Massachusetts will initially allow up to 35 dispensaries to operate around the state, creating tens of millions of dollars in revenues from the sale of MMJ.

Aside from choosing who gets licenses, van Unen will oversee dispensary inspections, the MMJ patient registry and other key aspects of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Van Unen is a board member of the Massachusetts Public Health Association and has served as a consultant to the state on medical marijuana matters. Most recently, she served as chief operating officer of a community public health program. Previously, she was a director at Children’s Hospital Boston.