New England News
6:34 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

Pittsfield Residents Hear Proposal for Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Julia Germaine, left, and Nial DeMena of Manna Wellness presented their plans to the public at a forum at Dottie's Coffee Lounge in Pittsfield.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC
The design for the proposed dispensary which Manna Wellness Director of Resources Julia Germaine says will be a couple miles from downtown Pittsfield along a public access route.
Credit Jim Levulis / WAMC

Residents in Pittsfield, Massachusetts have heard from members of an organization looking to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the city.

Nial DeMena is the Director of Operations for Manna Wellness.

“We’re looking to be the first LEED-certified registered marijuana dispensary in the country,” said DeMena.

The not-for-profit is looking to open a dispensary a couple miles from downtown Pittsfield along a public access route, according to Director of Resources Julia Germaine. Massachusetts voters approved legalizing medical marijuana in 2012, and in May, the state’s Department of Public Health set final regulations that would allow 35 dispensaries in the commonwealth. Manna Wellness is one of 158 groups currently in Phase 2 of a three-part process to be certified by the state. DeMena says it is trying to address any fears the community may have.

“I think people are ready for this,” DeMena said. “There are a lot of patients suffering from various ailments and that extends out to the spouses and families and they want to see that suffering go away.”

Most of the questions from the roughly 10 people who joined the public forum were about technical and legal issues dealing with how patients, doctors and dispensaries become certified to take, prescribe or distribute the drug. The law requires doctors who prescribe the medicine to have a bona fide relationship with the patient who will only be able to obtain a 60-day supply of 10 ounces at one time. Patients will receive a certification card from the state at a waive-able cost of $50 and no health insurance will cover the cost of the medication.

“You can take out some of the psychoactives to reduce the harm,” DeMena said. “You can eliminate the smoke altogether. There’s so many things you can do when you control a substance, but the way things are today people think that the flower is just going to be rolled or smoked in a joint.”

DeMena says if approved, Manna will work with patients who have hardships paying for the medication, even providing seeds to cultivate their own. Although DeMena says he would discourage and question this practice. Selling marijuana for non-medical purposes will be considered a felony punishable with up to five years in prison. DeMena says only patients will be allowed at the dispensary and no marijuana use other than for demonstration will occur at the site. The state is allowing a maximum of five dispensaries in each of its 14 counties, and some municipalities have already addressing the matter. Earlier this summer, a zoning ordinance in Pittsfield capped the number of allowed dispensaries at three within city limits.

Along with obtaining specialized permits, the ordinance also requires dispensaries to be set back 1,000 feet from a school or playground. City Planner CJ Hoss says the originally suggested 500 feet was extended to be in line with federal law, which still considers the sale of medical marijuana illegal. He adds the public was relatively quiet throughout the entire process.

“One person from the public got up and thought we were taking things too far, we were being too restrictive,” said Hoss.

Only three groups from Berkshire County are in Phase 2, while there are five in both Franklin and Hampshire, 11 in Hampden and 13 in Worcester. If approved, Manna will grow and sell the marijuana as a vertically-integrated operation subject to sales tax. Manna hopes to get an approval ruling by the end of January 2014.