Couple envisions green medical marijuana facility in Pittsfield -- away from downtown


PITTSFIELD -- Principals in the nonprofit firm that hopes to build a medical marijuana dispensary in Pittsfield say they envision a unique green facility that will be located outside the downtown area.

Julia Germaine and Nial DeMena, of Manna Wellness Inc., said they couldn't reveal the site being considered because their company has yet to secure its state license and is in talks with the landowner.

But Germaine said city officials are aware of the location, adding, "It will be a couple of miles from downtown but on a public transportation route."

Manna Wellness is seeking one of the new state licenses for a dispensary and growing facility, which are expected to be announced in late January by the state Department of Public Health. Once the first state licenses for a program approved through a citizen referendum in November 2012 are approved, the nonprofits would then be required to apply for local permits.

During their first public discussion about the operation, the pair answered numerous questions from residents on Wednesday during a meeting at Dottie's Coffee House as part of a community discussion series run by Donna Todd Rivers.

The couple said they believe Pittsfield is the ideal location to live and establish their new business. Germaine's family, including her father, Dr. Eric Germaine, the nonprofit's president and executive director, has had a house in the Berkshires since the 1970s.

"This has always been my favorite place in the world," Germaine said, adding, "A major component is environmental, and that fits our personalities."

"We're young and we want to make this our home for the next 10, 20, 30 years," DeMena added. That would include, he said, being part of community efforts within the city.

"We want to be in a place that's chill," he said, referring to the positive reception they've received here. "We're chill people."

Germaine said the facility would encompass both growing and marijuana processing and a retail section, where people certified as eligible to use medical marijuana could purchase a variety of products.

DeMena, who would act as director of operations, said the building would feature environmentally friendly materials and make use of solar and possible geothermal energy equipment. No other dispensary in the nation is a similar green facility, he said, adding that it could attract positive attention for the city.

Germaine said the facility would be open six days per week, from 10 or 11 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m., and would employ up to 15 people within two years.

The salaries will be competitive for a nonprofit organization, she said, and Manna Wellness would hire locally. Jobs would include in the growing and processing of marijuana, in patient counseling and education, retail and security.

A "state of the art" facility would produce not only marijuana for patients who prefer smoking it but topical rubs, medicines that can be inhaled in steam -- as well as products with higher, lower or no psychoactive component, DeMena said.

Marijuana has been prescribed for those suffering from ALS, HIV-AIDS, MS, Crohn's Disease, cancer and a number of conditions, he said, and research is continually pointing to its effectiveness in other medical areas.

Germaine said a doctor would have to approve the use of medical marijuana for a patient, who would then obtain a state identification card to allow the purchase of the drug from a licensed dispensary. Patient registration will cost $50, she said, and there will be no insurance coverage for medical marijuana -- in part because, while 20 states have legalized its use, the federal government has not.

Manna will use a sliding scale fee structure for those who apply for a financial hardship through the state DPH, DeMena said. He added that while there are "boutique strains" of some products, there are also "bulk strains" that cost less to produce and cost less.

"We want to make it affordable to those who need it," he said.

Education of patients in the proper use of medical marijuana "will be a component," Germaine said. That would include advice on controlling access to the drug within the home.

"We won't tolerate diversion [of the drug]," she said, referring to a patient selling or transferring it to someone else. State penalties, she said, can rise to the level of a felony.

The facility itself, "is more tightly regulated and more secure than a pharmacy," DeMena said.

Asked whether the drug can be used on the job, they said users should check their own situation with the Massachusetts Patient Advisory Alliance or an attorney, but added that some forms of the drug have no psychoactive ingredient -- such as THC -- and might be an alternative during work hours.

The facility would pay license fees to the state and sales taxes.

Local permitting includes applying for a special permit from the city. Pittsfield earlier this year enacted a zoning amendment that specifies areas of the city where a facility can be located.

To reach Jim Therrien:,

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