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Governor issues waiver to allow Massachusetts' 1st marijuana dispensary to open under 2012 law

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BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday issued a one-time, temporary waiver aimed at helping the state's first marijuana dispensary begin selling pot for medicinal purposes.

The waiver applies to Alternative Therapy Group of Salem.

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 dispensaries have opened.

"Patients have waited to access marijuana for medical purposes for far too long," Baker said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "This waiver will allow industry laboratories a little more time to reach full operation while providing safe amounts of medical marijuana for qualifying patients who need it."

According to its website, Alternative Therapy Group said it expects to open to the public beginning in early summer and by appointment only.

"ATG intends to offer a safe and enjoyable experience for our patients," the company said.

Under the three-month waiver, the company may only dispense a maximum of 4.23 ounces of marijuana to any qualifying patient for their 60-day supply and must provide patients with instructions to consume no more than 2 grams per day.

During that time, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will review the standards for naturally occurring minerals to ensure they are attainable for future dispensaries.

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders backed Baker's decision.

"We are not lowering our standards for the testing of marijuana for medical purposes," Sudders said in statement. "The waiver allows for small amounts of marijuana to be dispensed for medical use while testing facilities ramp up."

Kevin Gilnack, head of a trade association representing dispensaries, called the decision "a significant step forward for qualified patients."

Gilnack, however, faulted Massachusetts for being "the only state that has established its standards on the unsupported assumption that a patient might consume an entire ounce of cannabis in one sitting."

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.

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