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State's 1st medical marijuana dispensary opens in Salem; sales by appointment only

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SALEM, Massachusetts — The first medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts opened Wednesday — by appointment only — nearly three years after voters overwhelmingly approved the drug's therapeutic use.

Patients lined up outside the Alternative Therapies Group's dispensary in Salem a day after state regulators signed off on its final paperwork.

Access to the dispensary in a converted factory building that houses other businesses will be restricted to patients with a state-issued marijuana registration card.

No marijuana is grown or processed at the Salem site. The company said their cultivation facility is not open to the public.

On its website, Alternative Therapies Group said Department of Public Health regulations prevent dispensaries from advertising the price of marijuana. Pricing is available only to qualifying patients and personal caregivers at the dispensary facility.

"Our pricing structure is aimed at providing medical-grade cannabis, grown with organic methods, in a safe environment at the lowest price," the firm said on its website.

Patients with a documented financial hardship could qualify to purchase one ounce per month with a discount, but that their hardship program has limited capacity, the company said.

Alternative Therapies Group said they will offer a variety of strains of marijuana grown with organic methods, initially in bud form only.

Over time, the company hopes to expand their product line "to include more strains and MIPs (Marijuana Infused Products), such as tinctures, baked goods, topical creams, salves and vaporizer pens." The company also said it is not now selling seeds or plants.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday issued a one-time, temporary waiver allowing Alternative Therapies Group to open despite issues with testing required under state law.

Under regulations adopted by Massachusetts, samples of medicinal marijuana must be examined for cannabinoids, solvents, mycotoxins and other microbiological contaminants along with heavy metals and pesticides.

Alternative Therapy Group submitted samples, but labs in Massachusetts were unable to test for seven of the 18 mandated pesticides. Under current state regulations, that would have made the marijuana unable to be sold by Massachusetts dispensaries.

The waiver allows Alternative Therapy Group to sell marijuana for medical use with a label that discloses to the consumer the chemicals that were not tested.

Voters approved a ballot question in 2012 allowing for the licensing of up to 35 outlets to sell marijuana to patients suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

Implementation of the law has sputtered and no other dispensaries have opened, but the state's legal marijuana landscape could soon become even more expansive.

Two pro-marijuana groups are vowing to put questions on next year's ballot fully legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Massachusetts voters have been open to relaxing marijuana laws. In 2008, voters approved a question decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.


Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com

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