BOSTON -- In a packed conference room at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, the big sales pitch is on.
About 300 people have gathered to get information on how to apply for a license to run a medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts.
The pitch comes from Dr. Bruce Bedrick, the CEO of Medbox Inc., an Arizona-based company that offers consulting services and dispensing systems for medical marijuana that look and operate just like vending machines, though Bedrick cringes at that description.
Bedrick warns that getting a license in Massachusetts won't be easy.
The state is requiring applicants to put at least $500,000 in an escrow account to ensure that they have enough resources to operate.
Applicants must also submit detailed operating procedures for the dispensaries, including provisions for security, plans for preventing diversion of marijuana to non-patients and strict inventory procedures.
"You have to be able to submit an application that's better than your neighbor's," Bedrick said.
"They are going to score you. ... This is about winning, folks."
In November, state voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana for patients with cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's disease and other serious health conditions.
With the release last week of proposed regulations for the new industry, hundreds of people are getting down to the business of trying to get only one of 35 licenses the state will grant to run dispensaries.
The regulations, which must still win final approval from the state Public Health Council, require dispensaries to cultivate their own supply of marijuana, a rule intended to control the process from planting through distribution.
Many who attended Bedrick's workshops Wednesday were reluctant to speak to a reporter.
Several people said they were worried about a stigma that may still be associated with the marijuana industry, even though Massachusetts was the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana.
Jay Heinicke, a self-employed computer engineer who works with companies in the medical field, said he owns a Springfield building he is hoping to turn into a dispensary.
"I've seen the benefits for some people. It's undisputed at this point that there are benefits from this particular type of medicine for many kinds of illnesses," he said. "I am very hopeful about getting a license."
Bedrick tells the crowds at his seminars that the dispensing machines will be locked at all times, kept behind a counter and tinted opaque so no one can see inside.
The company's technology requires patients to do a fingerprint scan in order to get their supply of marijuana. Medbox has more than 100 dispensing systems in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Canada.
"This is not a vending machine," he says. "This is a tool to be used by dispensary staff."
Since voters approved medical marijuana, at least a half dozen consulting companies and law firms have opened offices in Massachusetts, most with experience working in other states where medical marijuana was legalized years ago, including Colorado and California.
Vicente Sederberg, a Denver-based law firm, has offices in Boston and Needham. The firm provides legal services and advice to people applying for dispensary licenses.
"There's definitely a lot of interest," said Josh Kappel, a senior associate at the firm. He said three seminars held by the firm have attracted about 100 people each time.
"The people who are interested range from someone who had a loved one with cancer who they've seen marijuana work for ... to people who have experience in the health care field, to people who are just excited about this whole industry," Kappel said.