NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2014

State OKs pot farms

Two facilities to pursue local permits to open

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY – Both companies interested in opening medical marijuana cultivation facilities have been awarded provisional licenses, the state Department of Public Health announced yesterday.

Alternative Therapies Group Inc. and Green Heart Holistic Health and Pharmaceuticals were each among the 20 applicants selected by the state to receive licenses to open and operate medical marijuana businesses. With the state licenses in hand, both businesses can go to the Planning Board and begin the process of setting up shop immediately.

ATG will open its facility on South Hunt Road, and GHHHP will operate at 10 Industrial Way, which is off of Monroe Street near the Salisbury border. Neither business will be allowed to dispense medical marijuana from their Amesbury locations, and will instead dispense from separate locations in Salem and Boston respectively.

The nearest dispensary to Amesbury will be located in Haverhill and will be operated by Healthy Pharms Inc. ATG’s dispensary in Salem will be the next closest, and the two will be the only dispensaries in Essex County.

“We’re excited, and relieved I guess that all of our efforts have paid off,” said Chris Edwards, who heads ATG. “At the risk of sounding cheesy, this is a huge milestone for patients getting access to the medicine. Now there’s some clarity of who the operators are going to be, where they’re going to be, and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the patients.”

Edwards said the companies will need to go through the city’s permitting process before opening, but he expects his facility to be up and running by the summer. The Salem dispensary’s target opening date is Aug. 1, he said, so in order to meet that goal, the cultivation facility would need to be ready at least eight to 12 weeks earlier to ensure time for a full growth cycle.

A voicemail left for Mayor Ken Gray wasn’t returned by press time, but City Council President Joe McMilleon said he wasn’t surprised both companies received licenses and is happy for them, adding that the city will do its best to monitor the two facilities and ensure all local and state regulations are adhered to.

“They’ve got to go someplace, and if they weren’t here in Amesbury they’d be someplace else,” McMilleon said. “This was never an issue about whether or not the citizens of Massachusetts were going to have access to use of medical marijuana, so it’s good for those companies.”

Fellow councilor Anne Ferguson, who has been the most vocal advocate for medical marijuana on the council these past few months, said she was happy to hear that both companies received licenses, saying she knows both companies worked hard to get them.

“I feel like the city of Amesbury is being forward thinking and I’m excited for what’s coming forward,” Ferguson said. “I’m a strong advocate for medical marijuana, being a nurse, so hopefully we’ll speed up this process to allow people who need the medical marijuana to get it.”

The announcement comes after several months of public debate following the revelation that ATG and GHHHP were interested in coming to Amesbury. The initial news prompted an outcry from residents who didn’t want the so-called “pot farms” to open in town, but a moratorium on all medical marijuana development that would have slowed their arrival ultimately failed.

Since then, the City Council has turned its attention to a proposed zoning amendment that would regulate future dispensaries. That bill likely won’t come to a vote until at least March, and it wouldn’t impact the cultivation facilities if approved.

A separate bill also under consideration would establish a local licensing requirement for cultivation facilities. That bill won’t come to a vote until at least March either, but Ferguson said the licensing requirements closely follow the state’s and won’t prevent the businesses from opening on schedule.

“They can go ahead effective immediately and start applying for their permits,” Ferguson said.