Interested Parties Await State's Next Move Towards Opening Dispensaries

Dec 17, 2014

Credit West Coast Cannabis / Flickr/CC

  The Department of Health and Human Services will soon begin asking for license applications from people who want to operate one of four medical marijuana dispensaries. A few proposals have already surfaced and some are partnering with outside companies.

Rex Bunnell hopes to find himself behind the counter of an Alternative Treatment Center, or ATC. That’s what the state calls its medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I’m a master-level licensed alcohol and drug counselor. I work for the Department of Corrections here in New Hampshire. Work at the probation and parole office in Concord, in the district office.”

He believes marijuana is a better alternative to addictive painkillers. And every day he sees the toll opiate addiction has on the state’s prison population.  

But he also has another reason. 20 years ago, when his daughter was being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, her doctor pulled Bunnell and his wife aside and quietly suggested she try marijuana.

 “And within a very short period of time—I  want to say within about a week—she was eating regularly and she ended up making it through the treatments.”

Ever since, he’s been a strong proponent of medical marijuana. Now, he and his two partners, who are both parole officers, plan to apply to operate a dispensary in Concord. They call their organization White Birch Medicinals and they’re working to raise money.

Dispensaries need to pay the state $80,000 a year to renew their registration. And another $3,000 just to apply for a license.

Bunnell predicts White Birch Medicinals would earn about $7 million in profits annually after the first three years.

“I kinda laughingly call this my retirement plan. Hopefully, if we do this right, which I think we can, we can be successful at it and we can make some money at it as well.”

But that’s not the case for Fremont resident and cancer survivor Dennis Acton who hopes to open a dispensary in Epping.

Outside companies

“I’m not driven by money on this.”

Acton doesn’t have the expertise or the cash to do this alone. So he’s been talking with New York-based PalliaTech about a partnership. PalliaTech operates retail and production facilities in Colorado, New Jersey and Montana. He says he has no financial investment in the venture.

“At first I was alarmed and worried about these companies coming in but now I embrace it.”

Acton says the high fees makes partnerships with outside companies necessary. It’s a risky investment for most and these companies already have the experience a local startup may lack.

The outside company can provide the know-how for things ranging from day-to-day operations to navigating the regulatory system. In some cases, it provides patented growing technology.

Keeping close to chest

GB Sciences is a publicly traded company that’s shown interest in setting up in New Hampshire. Its chief science officer showed up at the state’s last rules hearing. She was joined by former New Hampshire Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes. They advocated that regulation language be broad enough to include GB’s aeroponic growing technology. Hodes would not comment on his involvement.

In Franklin, businessman Paul Morrissette announced he’s partnering with Massachusetts company MariMed in hopes of setting up a dispensary. But he also declined to comment further. And MariMed and GB Sciences have not returned our calls.

RFA delays

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for the state Department of Health and Human Services to release its request for applications which will outline criteria by which the state will score applicants. DHHS had originally hoped to get that out in November.

“There are a lot of questions on both sides. I think it will be difficult to answer all those questions by January 23rd. But that is the department’s statutory requirement is January 23rd.”

Matt Simon is the New England director of the Marijuana Policy Project. And January 23rd is when DHHS needs to have selected at least two applicants for a dispensary license.

“And that’s a hurdle we need to cross just to get to next leg of the race which is then to actually get a dispensary open.”

But while interested parties await the official application, and various proposals surface, town reactions have been mixed.

Epping’s planning board has proposed zoning rules that would limit dispensary locations to 1,000 feet from a residence, school, church or daycare. If approved, it may put an end to dispensary plans there. In Concord, the city’s planning board will consider limiting which zones marijuana can be grown (industrial) or sold (institutional).

Other questions remain—like will the dispensaries pay property taxes? When lawmakers come back in session they’re expected to amend the law by requiring operators to make payments in lieu of taxes.

And it’s unclear if the state will meet its January 23rd deadline to make its selections. After would-be dispensary operators get the green light, they have 90 days to secure a location, submit floor plans and gain building permits.