Topic: US ME: State Determines Who Will Manage Pot Dispensaries
Newshawk: Medical Marijuana: http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/node/54
Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jul 2010
Source: Kennebec Journal (Augusta, ME)
Copyright: 2010 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Contact: http://www.kjonline.com/readerservices/ or-KJ.html
Author: Rebekah Metzler, Staff Writer
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?253 (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)
STATE DETERMINES WHO WILL MANAGE POT DISPENSARIES
Department of Health and Human Services Makes Its Choices Based on Scoring System
AUGUSTA -- A nonprofit with California roots was selected Friday to operate four of Maine's six new medical marijuana dispensaries.
Cathy Cobb of Maine's Department of Health and Human Services, who served on the four-member selection committee, said security and patient education plans, along with a clear nonprofit mission, were the keys for the winning applications.
Northeast Patients Group, which features outgoing Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion as a board member, received the best score in four out of the five counties for which it sought licenses.
"The committee looked for the skills and abilities of running organizations, we looked at how they projected the number of patients they would be serving and the price per ounce and, more importantly, what the organization planned to do with this excess net income," Cobb said. "Lastly, we wanted to make sure that all the dispensaries were adequately addressing the patient education needs."
Cobb was joined in the decision-making process by two other DHHS officials -- Kathy Bubar and Jason White -- and John McElwee, a retired District Court judge, who represented the public's interest on the Medical Marijuana Task Force.
The task force was formed by Gov. John Baldacci to help ease the implementation process after a citizens approved medical marijuana dispensaries in a referendum last fall. Medical marijuana has been legal in Maine for about 10 years, but patients had a difficult time obtaining pot legally, advocates said.
State officials could have approved up to eight dispensaries -- one in each public health district.
But Cobb said no application submitted for the York County district -- or the Hancock and Washington counties' district -- scored high enough for approval.
Failed applicants from all districts have the opportunity to appeal the decisions. The deadline for new applications in those two districts is Aug. 20.
All but $1,000 of the $15,000 application fee was rebated to failed applicants.
"We had objective criteria, objective scoring weights, we had an unbiased committee of four people and we selected and scored the best applications," Cobb said. "I'm sure that our decisions are going to come under scrutiny, and we're prepared to defend our decisions."
Members from Northeast Patients Group, which will have four dispensaries around the state, including Portland and either Augusta or Waterville; and Remedy Compassion Center, which will be located in Wilton, have prior experience, Cobb said. The group Safe Alternatives of Fort Kent does not.
All three groups are registered as nonprofits, as required by law, and offered specific security plans that impressed the panel, Cobb said. DHHS will also hire a full-time manager to inspect the dispensaries and growing facilities.
Cobb also defended the committee's selection of Northeast Patients Group for a majority of dispensaries, saying it submitted strong applications that were each weighed individually. She pointed out that organization was beat out by another group in one district.
"I know that a lot of people feel that, because (NPG) come from away, that they shouldn't have been selected. But when you are going through a legal process like this, where you have established the criteria for what you are looking for, you choose the best application and you can't legally vary from that," Cobb said.
Northeast Patients Group plans on using a business plan modeled after the Berkeley Patients Group, which includes an emphasis on charity donations and increasing access for those who cannot afford medicinal marijuana on their own. NPG anticipates charging $340 per ounce of usable marijuana, according to its application.
"For some people, depending on the district, it's anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 a year that people would be anticipating to pay for medicinal marijuana -- and that's a lot of money," Cobb said, adding that the committee looked favorably upon the applications offering discounted prices to lower-income patients.
In addition to the price of the product, medical marijuana patients must pay a $100 registration fee to the state in order to receive their eligibility card. MaineCare patients only pay $75 for their registration card, but would have to pay full price for any pot.
Maine's new medical marijuana dispensary system is to be self-supported, based on fees paid by patients and dispensary owners, according to the law.
Potential patients also need a recommendation letter from their physician to be submitted along with their official application, which is available online at the DHHS website. Only doctors with "bona fide" relationships with their patients can recommend medicinal marijuana as an option, Cobb said.
Jonathan Leavitt of Maine Citizens for Patients Rights, the group that spearheaded the initiative, said in a statement he was pleased with the speed at which state officials moved to implement the new law.
"We are confident that, as people throughout Maine see these new dispensaries providing good jobs and good medicine to people in their communities in a responsible way, that the way will be opened for more organizations to develop new and innovative ways of providing access to high quality medicine from the plants around us," Leavitt said in a news release.