Nonprofit may start looking for pot dispensary site in Pittsfield next week


PITTSFIELD -- Unless a bylaw amendment on medical marijuana facilities is significantly altered at the City Council level, a nonprofit company planning a facility in Pittsfield expects to begin a site search as early as next week.

Julia Germaine, spokeswoman for Manna Wellness Inc., said final state Department of Public Health regulations for the newly legalized dispensaries -- released this week -- contain no obstacles for the plan to create a production and retail facility in Pittsfield. She has said the nonprofit will seek a parcel on which to build, rather than an existing building to renovate. Allowing for state licensing and construction, an opening in early 2014 is possible, she said.

Germaine said a proposed city zoning amendment to deal with facility siting and other issues also appears to be regulations Manna Wellness can work with. That amendment, drawn up by the Community Development Board and other city officials in anticipation of the new marijuana law, will be the subject of a public hearing before the council on Tuesday.

City Planner C.J. Hoss said the council will hold a hearing on the amendment and could decide to vote Tuesday or refer it to a council subcommittee for further review. If the council votes, approval of the zoning change would require a two-thirds vote in favor, or eight of 11 councilors.

In November, Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana initiative that allows for licensed dispensaries and prescriptions for patients suffering from certain conditions such as cancer or AIDS. State officials have been working since Jan. 1 on specific licensing regulations for the facilities and for licensing of users.

The state DPH developed "some pretty complete and solid regulation," Germaine said, adding that Manna Wellness was pleased with changes in the final draft. Those included removal of a requirement that a medical marijuana user must purchase it only from one licensed distributor. That provision, Germaine said, would leave someone without a preferred form of marijuana if one distributor did not have that form or had run out, and it would reduce competition to offer the best product and service.

She said the deleted condition would be similar to a person who could only go to one pharmacy for his or her prescription medicine.

In addition, the dispensary/production operations were initially barred from purchasing from one another, but that was changed in the final draft, Germaine said. They now are allowed to purchase up to 30 percent of their inventory in an emergency situation, such as a marijuana crop failure.

Germaine said Manna Wellness principals hope to meet soon with city zoning, community development, health department and other officials, and begin meeting with community groups for input on the best sites for a facility.

Manna Wellness was founded by Eric Germaine, a retired veterinarian whose family has owned a home in Becket since the mid-1970s. Julia Germaine is Eric Germaine's daughter.

Their plan calls for offering all types of medical marijuana, including those for smoking, ingesting, use in vaporizing inhalers and in tinctures. Germaine said research has led to development of refined products that more precisely deliver cannabinoids, or the chemical compounds that produce the drug's effect, than smoking.

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