- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Four companies will have another shot to operate one of Massachusetts’ first medical marijuana dispensaries, the state announced on Wednesday.

The Department of Public Health outlined its plan for accepting proposals for medical marijuana dispensaries in seven counties that currently do not have a project in the pipeline. The counties encompass some of Massachusetts’ largest urban centers and tourist destinations, from Boston, the Fall River/New Bedford region and Springfield to the Berkshires, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

But only four companies have been asked to submit applications: Coastal Compassion, JCS Holdings, MassMedicum Corp. and Patriot Care Corp.

Those four had scored relatively high in the department’s assessment of proposed dispensary plans last year. But they ultimately did not make the cut for various reasons as officials pared down a list of some 100 applicants to 20 in January and then to 11 about two weeks ago.

Representatives from all four companies were in attendance Wednesday. A number said they already have an idea which county they might seek to build their facility, which would be authorized to grow and sell marijuana to patients suffering from chronic pain from cancer, AIDS and other debilitating illnesses.

James Kurnick, CEO of MassMedicum, believes his Boston-based team can mount a strong application for Suffolk County. It had previously lost its bid to open a dispensary in the town of Holbrook in Norfolk County.

Timothy Keogh, executive director of Coastal Compassion, said his company will again likely propose a facility in Bristol County, which covers the Fall River-New Bedford area. “We’re looking forward to getting back on track,” he said.

The companies have until Aug. 29 to apply, and the department is expected to make its selections by October.

Karen Van Unen, head of the state’s medical marijuana program, said the department will allow the companies to propose up to two facilities each, so long as they are in different counties.

But the state will only pick a maximum of five licensees during this round. That means at least two counties will still not have a marijuana facility going into 2015, when the state plans to reopen the licensing process to new applicants.

Under state law, the department is allowed to license at least 35 marijuana dispensaries. At least one must be located in each of the state’s 14 counties and there may be no more than five per county. The 11 companies that have already been cleared to open their facilities are expected to be operational sometime at the end of 2014 or early 2015.

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