Massachusetts health officials have approved the first licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Officials announced the recipients of the initial 20 licenses Jan. 31, handing them out to businesses in 10 of Massachusetts’ 14 counties. Nantucket, Dukes, Franklin and Berkshire counties were not awarded a dispensary in the first round of licenses.

Medical marijuana passed in the 2012 election with 63 percent support. Under the law, the state may license up to 35 non-profit dispensaries, with at least one and no more than five in each county.

marijuana jarThat means officials will be issuing more licenses in the weeks or months to come, including at least one license in each of the counties left out this time. The state will ask some of the businesses who were denied in other counties to relocate to the overlooked counties.

“Eight highly qualified applicants who were not granted their proposed location will be invited to seek a change of location to a county without provisional approval for a Registered Marijuana Dispensary,” the Massachusetts health department said in a statement. “This phase will allow the Selection Committee to review high-scoring applicants who wish to seek a change of location to an underserved county to maximize patient access.”

The eight applicants will undergo an abbreviated review process, said Karen van Unen, director of the medical marijuana program. If they’re approved, they’ll receive their licenses in June, van Unen said. She said the businesses would likely have a leg up, since they already cleared the hurdles in the first round – in fact, some scored higher than other dispensaries that were awarded licenses.

Good Chemistry of Massachusetts Inc. was one of the eight applicants left out Jan. 31. Jaime Lewis, the company’s chief operating officer, said she didn’t know why Alternative Therapies Group, her competitor, beat her for a license in Salem.

“I could only imagine that they made the best decision possible for whatever reason,” Lewis said. “The competing company must have been the better candidate.”

Good Chemistry is well-positioned nonetheless. Not only has the business been invited to reapply for the license in another county, it was awarded two other licenses for dispensaries, one in Boston and one in Worcester.medical marijuana buds

Some other applicants found themselves in particularly good positions as well. One, a former congressman and prosecutor, did especially well.

William Delahunt, who served as district attorney of Norfolk County for 20 years before representing the South Shore in Congress for 14, was awarded all three of the licenses he sought, in Mashpee, Taunton and Plymouth. He’ll run the shops through a company called Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts. His political foes and some in the marijuana industry have charged him with using undue influence to advance his MMJ interests, especially since he has no background in the industry.

For all those who obtained permission to run dispensaries, the licenses are merely another step. Stores won’t open until later this year, van Unen said.

“Most likely between now and August we will be opening up maybe 24 to 26 dispensaries,” she said.


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