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Editorial: Still waiting on the pot dispensaries

The state of New York just became the 23rd state to OK the use of medical marijuana.

Is anyone taking bets on whether New York will be providing this form of relief to patients with cancer or other medical issues before a dispensary gets opened in Franklin County? After all, it’s thought that New York expects everything to be in place in 18 months.

All kidding aside, we can’t imagine anyone could have foreseen the way the process in Massachusetts has gone so far, almost two years after a ballot proposition was approved by voters legalizing medical marijuana. With the law taking effect Jan 1, 2013, no one thought that the state would have its act together immediately. Understandably, there were too many details to work out, besides what was written into the law.

About 18 months later, however, there’s not a single medical marijuana dispensary up and running in Massachusetts.

It’s not for a want of trying.

The state Department of Public Health had about 100 applicants trying to move toward licenses through the initial vetting process, and then rejected all but 20. Further review of the applicants resulted in another nine being dropped at the end of June, including those that were Franklin County-specific. This week, the state held an informational session for five applicants that were invited to submit applications for open counties, including Franklin and Berkshire counties.

Even if one of those applicants emerges, there are still plenty of hurdles, as witnessed by the 11 that now have gotten provisional licenses, to get past before they can move toward setting up shop and operating, pending additional reviews and inspections. While state officials say it is possible that dispensaries could be open in November, it is more likely that it won’t be until after the first of the year.

What then do we make of the process? For one thing, that it took the state entirely too long to get its act together, despite the fact that the process properly not only included the intensity of background checks and verifying information but also in providing the public with the documentation about the evaluations. We can also find fault, too, with the applicants that either didn’t understand what they were doing or weren’t as forthcoming with information as they should have been.

“Those advancing have passed comprehensive background checks and investigative reviews. Prior to opening, each must comply with all inspection and municipal requirements,” said Karen van Unen, executive director of DPH’s Medical Use of Marijuana Program in a statement on the department’s website.

“This process is designed to ensure only the highest quality applicants advance to meet the patient access and public safety needs of the commonwealth.”

And that takes time, we know, but we also can’t help thinking that the whole idea seems to have caught the DPH off guard.

In the meantime, marijuana is still readily available — at affordable prices — on just about every busy street corner or side alley in the commonwealth.

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