By Matt Murphy

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE -- Speaking to concerns about equal access to medical marijuana for residents across the state, the Department of Public Health on Wednesday outlined the process for selected companies to bid on provisional licenses in seven counties that do not currently have an approved dispensary.

Karen van Unen, director of the state's medical marijuana program, and her team announced that the DPH anticipated awarding new provisional licenses in October. The department in June selected 11 applicants for provisional medical marijuana dispensary licenses, leaving residents in Berkshire, Hampden, Franklin, Bristol, Suffolk, Nantucket and Dukes counties without access to a dispensary in their county.

Five highly scored applicants that were not selected in the first round of licensing were invited to reapply for a license in any of the seven unrepresented counties. Those groups were Coastal Compassion, the Haven Center, Mass Medicum Corp, and Patriot Care, who has been invited to apply for two licenses.

"You're literally picking up where you left off," van Unen told representatives of Coastal Compassion in response to a question about scoring the applications. Scores during the first phase of the application process will be carried over to this process, with the exception of vetting the new proposed locations and local support.

Under the timeline outlined Wednesday, applicants will have until Aug.


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29 to submit their final applications, though they can begin turning in applications on Aug. 1. Each applicant has been invited to apply for a license in up to two new locations, though the proposed dispensaries must be located in different open counties and each applicant, with the exception of Patriot Care, is only eligible for one license. Marijuana cultivation centers, which are sometimes separate from the dispensary, do not have to be located in an open county.

Even with this second round of licensing this year, officials acknowledged that at least two counties will be without a medical marijuana dispensary. The department anticipates opening a fresh round of bidding next year when all groups will be invited to apply. The voter-approved law legalizing medical marijuana in Massachusetts authorized DPH to award up to 35 dispensary licenses.

Tim Keogh, the CEO of Coastal Compassion, said his company, which bid for a dispensary license in New Bedford, would continue to eye the South Shore as a possible location. Though Coastal Compassion encountered local opposition ary in New Bedford, he said there were "some indicators of support" for a cultivation site in the city that they would continue to explore as they look for a new dispensary location "from Fairhaven to Seekonk."

Asked if the remaining applicants might try to coordinate their bids to maximize their chances of being successful, Keogh said, "There's been some fairly open conversation about where people are looking."

James Kurnick, an immunologist and cancer researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and the chief executive of Mass. Medicum Corp., said his group was actively looking at sites in Boston for a dispensary after the city and Suffolk County were shut out during the first round.

Several applicants for dispensaries in Boston ran into trouble after making false claims about local support, and Kurnick said his group would be sensitive to that fact and careful to do the community outreach necessary to build support and ease concerns about a dispensary. Mass. Medicum has not yet settled on a location, according to members of their team.

"We'd like to start with a clean slate," Kurnick said. Mass. Medicum Corp. initially applied to open a dispensary in Holbrook.

Kurnick said his group's application is unique in many ways from other competitors because of the prevalence of medical professionals in their leadership team and plans to have a full-time pharmacist on staff. "We feel our group has a medical focus that maybe other groups don't," he said.

The five applicants have until July 18 to submit questions to the Department of Public Health about the application process, after which point the department will post their responses online by July 25.