AYER -- Plans for a medical marijuana dispensary in Ayer are proceeding after the state's Department of Health awarded provisional registration to Central Ave. Compassionate Care Inc.
The proposed dispensary is one of only 11 that made it through the multi-step process, beginning with two different application phases and continuing with a verification phase.
Since September, the DPH has weeded out more than 100 applicants seeking to operate one of the 35 dispensaries allowed in the state.
"We're thrilled about it," said Shirley resident John Hillier, the dispensary's president. "It's great news."
Hillier said the verification phase consisted of three meetings with the DPH in which officials went through application information with a fine-tooth comb.
An independent investigation firm sat in on one of the meetings to re-verify information, Hillier said.
Compassionate Care now moves to the inspectional phase, the last step before the DPH issues final registration. Dispensaries also need to comply with local town requirements.
Hillier said the inspections will be for cultivation, dispensing and marijuana-infused product operations.
The building at 31 Central Ave. will feature patient services and consulting areas, Hillier said. Any areas beyond those are restricted to essential employees.
"For instance, someone that might be working in the kitchen doesn't have any job responsibilities in cultivation, so they wouldn't have access to (restricted areas)," Hillier explained.
The cultivation space is being built out, he said, as well as a completely new commercial-grade kitchen.
"We're working on all parts of it to try and get the building ready to come online as soon as possible so that we can help the patients," he said. "They've had quite a wait."
The whole approval process faced criticism over the winter, when news reports highlighted various issues with verification of applicant information and a possible conflict of interest between DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett and former Congressman William Delahunt, a dispensary applicant.
Hillier said the issue was clearly a delay for everybody, including the patients.
Dispensaries were projected to open in summer, with the inspection phase beginning in spring, according to a flow chart posted on the DPH website. Now, officials have announced that some dispensaries could open by November and others by February 2015.
The verification process included background checks on investors, staff and related companies, according to a DPH press release. The department contacted more than 200 people to verify their support -- another problem highlighted in the press.
"I think the process certainly took longer than the patients expected for sure, and I think it took longer than any of the applicants initially thought," Hillier said. "But it's a process that had to happen and so we're just focused on moving forward."
Although the dispensary had hoped to open by September, Hillier said now, November would be great.
His team is trying to make up lost time, he said, but that's only possible to a certain extent.
"We've got to do it right," he said. "We're not trying to rush things."
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