Manna Wellness still in hunt for Berkshire County medical marijuana license


PITTSFIELD -- After meeting with state officials, principals with Manna Wellness Inc. believe they still have a chance to secure a medical marijuana license in Berkshire County.

Nial C. DeMena, director of operations for the nonprofit group, said Manna Wellness was able to make its case for a license from the state Department of Public Health during a briefing session Tuesday in Boston.

Manna Wellness was one of four groups in Berkshire County turned down last month for one of the first medical marijuana licenses approved in Massachusetts. In the initial round, the DPH approved 20 licenses on Jan. 31 and essentially pre-approved six other applications, provided the applicants move the operation to an unserved area of the commonwealth.

Those thus far unserved areas include Berkshire and Franklin counties, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

"They were very receptive," DeMena said of the follow-up meeting with DPH officials. "They were open to an exchange of ideas."

The enabling 2012 statewide referendum that legalized medical marijuana authorized up to 35 facilities, and at least one, but not more than five in each county. That would seem to leave up to 15 more proposals statewide that could be granted licenses, although many observers believe Berkshire County will likely get only one license, based on its relatively sparse population.

DeMena said the discussion with DPH officials included looking at income disparities and the size of the patient base between Western Massachusetts and the central and eastern sections when developing a management plan for a facility. State officials admitted such differences -- and the effects on an operation here versus one in another area -- were not fully considered in the first round of license decisions, he said.

"I want to praise them," DeMena said. "I thought we would just look at the [application] scores, but they allowed us to make our case."

Manna Wellness was one of about 60 nonprofits listed as "not selected at this time" in the DPH announcement of the first licenses. About 100 nonprofits had active applications prior to the announcement, down from about 180 at the start of the licensing process last year.

DeMena added that he stressed the economic benefits for the Berkshires of having both a production facility and dispensary here -- as Manna Wellness has proposed both for a site off West Housatonic Street. It is probable a nonprofit based outside the area would have a dispensary here but have its production facility elsewhere, he said.

The Berkshire-based, family-managed nonprofit also has fostered relationships with the community over the past year, DeMena said, which might not be the case with a license-holder based elsewhere.

And he notes that at least two of the 20 nonprofits granted provisional licenses were found to have included inaccurate information on their applications, and questions about possible favoritism during the selection process toward some applicants, as examples of the unsettled nature of the process.

Even if all eight pre-approved operations are located in unserved areas and none of the first 20 approved are overturned, that would total 28, seven short of the 35 licenses authorized in the referendum vote.

While still hoping the DPH will grant a license to Manna Wellness, DeMena also said two of the nonprofits that received pre-approval for a license -- Greeneway Wellness Foundation Inc. and Mass Medicum Corp. Inc. -- share similar visions and values and would be entities Manna Wellness might be able to work with in this area.

Both Greeneway Wellness Foundation and Mass Medicum Corp. received state license approvals Jan. 31 for facilities in eastern Massachusetts, as well as pre-approval to local facilities elsewhere.

DeMena said he also sees no reason the Berkshires couldn't have two nonprofits competing within the county for patients.

Another of the nonprofits with a pre-approval designation from the DPH, Patriot Care Corp. of Harvard, had representatives in Pittsfield this week for preliminary discussions with city officials. The nonprofit is considering sites for locating two dispensaries in unserved counties.

Patriot Care has been approved for a production facility in South Hadley and for a dispensary in Lowell.

DeMena said DPH officials indicated the next round of license approvals will come in weeks rather than months.

Michael Marino, whose Prospect Lake Inc. proposed a facility in Great Barrington, said Friday his nonprofit also will schedule a meeting with DPH officials to discuss Prospect Lake's application and score in the selection process.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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