PITTSFIELD -- A nonprofit group with ties to the Berkshires intends to seek permits to build a medical marijuana production and dispensary facility in Pittsfield.
Manna Wellness Inc. has made initial contact with city planning officials about its proposal, and sees Pittsfield "as an ideal location" in terms of zoning requirements and for its central location within the county, according to Julia Germaine, a company spokeswoman.
Germaine said the intent is to "open up conversations" with the community and work collaboratively with the city to find a site for a facility of up to 10,000 square feet. She added, "We want to be as transparent as possible."
Manna Wellness was founded by Eric Germaine, a retired veterinarian who has owned a home in Becket since the mid-1970s.
Manna Wellness is the first group to publicly express formal interest for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Berkshires. In November, Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana initiative that allows for licensed dispensaries and pot prescriptions for patients suffering from certain conditions such as cancer and HIV. State government officials have since been working to build the regulatory frameworks for the new law, while some local governments, like Pittsfield, have examined their zoning laws to accomodate dispensaries.
"The mission of Manna Wellness is to provide patients with debilitating conditions with life-enhancing medicine and to work closely with municipal officials, health care groups, local law enforcement, public safety organizations, patient organizations and the community throughout the licensing process," Eric Germaine said in a prepared statement.
Julia Germaine, Eric Germaine's daughter, said Monday that outreach efforts to city officials and the Pittsfield community have begun and will continue in the coming months. The group also is working with design firms on a plan for the facility and with local real estate agents to identify a suitable site. Manna Wellness also would need a state permit to operate a medical marijuana treatment center.
Germaine added that "nothing was a surprise to us" or problematic in a zoning amendment the city is working on for medical marijuana facilities.
The only concerns Manna Wellness has identified are with state Department of Public Health proposals to regulate the industry, she said. One concern, she said, is that draft regulations would require a 120-waiting period for a patient to change dispensaries, which Germaine said could prevent some from finding the method of delivery best suited for their condition. Those options could include smoking or using liquid, vaporized or tincture forms.
City Planner C.J. Hoss said Monday he has informed Manna Wellness representatives of the progress of the city's zoning amendment, which is expected to go before the City Council tonight. It likely will be sent back to the Community Development Board, which has been refining an initial draft amendment prepared for Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi by the city solicitor's office.
A public hearing on the proposal will then be scheduled by the board, probably on May 7, Hoss said.
Julia Germaine said it now appears the state DPH will ratify a set of regulations for medical marijuana in late May. However, she doesn't expect facility licenses to be approved until around October.
"Full operation of the facility would probably be in early 2014," she said.
Up to about 10,000 square feet would be required for a planned facility, Germaine said, "although it is hard to estimate the patient base."
Manna Wellness would likely leave room for growth in the plan and "respond as the program grows," she said.
The production, or indoor marijuana growing area, would be roughly 5,000 square feet, she said. This section would be separated from the retail space, in part for security reasons.
In addition, the retail or patient space "would have more of a pharmaceutical approach" and a similar professional look. Signs for it would not prominently display marijuana or plant designs.
The plan calls for offering all types of medical marijuana, including those for smoking, ingesting, use in vaporizing inhalers and in tinctures. Germaine said research has led to development of refined products that more precisely deliver cannabinoids, or the chemical compounds that produce the drug's effect, than smoking.
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