Anticipating questions about dispensary, Sage Cannabis chief takes the initiative
From Michael Dundas, chief executive of Sage Cannabis, Feb. 5, 2016: In 2012 nearly 80 percent of Cambridge residents voted to allow access to medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions. Now, more than three years later, the city still does not host a single registered marijuana dispensary. Sage Cannabis (formerly Milford Medicinals) is a licensed dispensary in Massachusetts. We are building a cultivation facility and dispensary in Milford, and have proposed locating an additional dispensary in Cambridge, and we would like to ask for your help.
When we first embarked on this mission to provide medical marijuana to patients across Massachusetts, most people didn’t understand how marijuana could be used as a medicine. After all, hasn’t marijuana been illegal for decades? In fact, it turns out medical marijuana is a highly effective treatment option for a variety of debilitating medical conditions, symptoms and syndromes. Don’t buy it? Ask around. I bet there is at least one person in your personal network that has used marijuana to treat a medical symptom at one time or another in their lives. You might not know it, however, because of the stigma that continues to surround medical marijuana use.
Our organization exists to serve patients with medical conditions that will benefit from marijuana as a treatment option. These are patients suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy or cancer itself, children with extreme forms of seizure disorders, sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease, ALS and multiple sclerosis, among others. Our clients come from all walks of life, all ages and all ethnic and religious backgrounds. For many, marijuana is a medicine of last resort. It is truly a compassionate alternative.
There are many ways to take marijuana medicine, and we encourage patients to avoid smoking in favor of vaporizing or consuming infused or edible forms. These nontraditional forms of marijuana medicine are becoming much more popular than smoking. Each has a different effect on the body, and can be used to relieve different symptoms. The products we offer our patients are produced in tightly controlled environments, to exacting standards of quality, purity and efficacy, as required by the Department of Public Health.
Importantly, we are proud to operate under a comprehensive set of regulations overseen by the DPH. These regulations provide rules for product quality, safety and security. Some examples include: high standards for required product testing, strict compliance with a host of process requirements and extensive annual background checks for all employees.
A key tenet of how we operate as an organization is to engage the local community in a dialogue about how we may work in partnership with the neighborhood. When we first approached the town of Milford, we sought input from the board of selectmen on our overall operations; the Planning Department regarding siting issues; the Fire Department on health and safety issues; and the Police Department regarding public safety issues. Each of these stakeholders provided valuable input we used to develop our operational procedures. We have begun the process of outreach and engagement in Cambridge as well, and we welcome your input.
Some have wondered why we changed our name. When we were originally licensed by the Department of Public Health, we had a single location in Milford that included a cultivation and dispensing site. Today, we are hoping to open two additional dispensaries. We felt it would be awkward and confusing to continue to use the name “Milford” if we were operating in another city or town. We chose to harmonize the name across all three locations because it seemed like common sense.
About the dispensary
Our dispensary will provide a professional atmosphere where patients can feel safe they are getting medicine from a reliable source. To enter a dispensary facility, a patient must first get a marijuana certification from a state-licensed physician, and the physician must then register the patient with the Medical Use of Marijuana Program at DPH. Patients will be admitted to the dispensary upon presentation of a valid DPH registration card and valid photo ID. No dispensary may admit unregistered walk-ins, and minors are never allowed into the facility.
Our sales experience will be highly personal and respectful of individual needs. After having their credentials checked, patients will enter a secure waiting area. A sales agent will greet each patient and take him or her to an individual display pedestal where products are arrayed. Patients will be able to choose from among a variety of flower, concentrated or infused medical marijuana products. The sales agent will confirm with the DPH database that the patient is eligible, and record the patient’s order. Once the order has been submitted, the patient will move to the fulfillment area of the dispensary and wait for their order to be filled.
The patient will get their medicine in a discreet, sealed package. All items are individually packaged in opaque, child-resistant bags labeled with important safety information. Patients are required to exit the dispensary as soon as their order has been filled. They are not allowed to stay at the site, linger outside or take their medicine on or near the premises.
Our proposed location
We have proposed a location at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., directly between the Harvard Square and Central Square T stations. This location would be a dispensary only, and not include a marijuana cultivation facility. All products will be pre-packaged at our Milford facility. From a patient access standpoint, this is an ideal location for a dispensary in that it meets the spirit of the criteria set forth in the Cambridge medical marijuana zoning ordinance and presents a convenient access point for a majority of residents.
The actual space is below street grade, providing discreet access for patients. The interior of the facility will not be visible from the street or anywhere on the outside. It is accessible by many forms of public transportation, and will be made fully accessible to people with disabilities. We envision minimal impact on the neighborhood and surrounding area, and we would therefore employ limited signage that would be tastefully designed and in keeping with the look and feel of the neighborhood. We anticipate no more than 150 patients per day (about 15 per hour). No neon lights or pot leaves here – this is a professional, medical facility.
After speaking personally with many neighbors (businesses and residents) I have been deeply moved by the support we have received. I am hopeful the City Council, Planning Board, Ordinance Committee and, most importantly, the neighborhood will look favorably upon our proposal.
The current medical marijuana zones
The current medical marijuana zones in Cambridge (which the city refers to as MMD-1 and MMD-2) are largely industrial in nature and on the outskirts of the city. There are a few large warehouse buildings that could serve as industrial cultivation facilities similar to the one we are operating in Milford, but there are precious few locations to serve solely as dispensaries that could provide convenient access to a majority of residents. When it comes to providing a convenient, welcoming and patient centered environment for people with debilitating medical conditions, both zones leave something to be desired.
Without question, the City Council was doing its best to navigate the complicated intersection of state law and community concerns when it crafted these zones. It was looking for places that could accommodate dispensary and cultivation uses, and it was following the DPH guidance that these would be regional centers designed to serve more than just the immediate community. At the time, what became the MMD-1 and MMD-2 zones seemed to be a good fit. But the DPH process has changed, and under the new state process these facilities will serve a much more local community.
Given this new reality, a more central and convenient area would better provide a compassionate and welcoming environment for patients in need. After all, let’s not lose sight of the fact that these facilities are meant to serve patients with debilitating medical conditions. As a patient, would you feel more comfortable driving to an industrial zone on the outskirts of the city to obtain your medicine, or to a convenient yet discreet location closer to where you actually live?
We are embarking on an education and awareness campaign in an effort to let you know who we are and listen to your thoughts, recommendations, concerns and questions. To this end, I invite you to write to me personally if you have something to say on this topic, and we are currently reaching out to organize community meetings and listening sessions.
It is my sincere hope that we can work in partnership with the neighborhood and the city to bring a compassionate alternative for those seeking relief from difficult medical conditions. Our goal is to be the best neighbor on the block and to contribute to the life and vitality of the City of Cambridge. Please let us know how you feel.
Michael Dundas, chief executive of Sage Cannabis, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.