Manna Wellness' Julia Germaine and Nial DeMena spoke Wednesday about their plans for a medical marijuana dispensary in Pittsfield.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The limited use of medical marijuana approved by Massachusetts voters nearly one year ago will soon be a clinical reality, and one new firm with local roots is looking to become the face of this new industry in the Berkshires.
Representatives of the new startup, Manna Wellness Inc.
, say pending state and local approvals, they intend to construct a new high-tech, environmentally friendly marijuana dispensary facility about two miles from downtown Pittsfield.
"No other dispensary in America right now is a LEED-certified green building," said Nial DeMena, director of operations for the nonprofit, which is currently a Phase II candidate to become a registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) under the state Department of Health's new regulatory system.
Their proposed new building would be a low-impact, energy efficient center that will potentially take advantage of such technologies as solar, geothermal and non-toxic sodium aqueaous batteries.
"No one in the history of this industry has done that," said DeMena, at a public presentation at Dottie's Coffee Lounge on Wednesday. "We are trying to leave a small carbon footprint, we're trying to be environmentally friendly, and we're trying to accommodate the community."
Director of Resources Julia Germaine, daughter of Manna's Executive Director and President Dr. Eric Germaine, a retired veterinarian, said the operation expects to create about 15 "competitive wage" jobs within its first few years, including patient care, security and cultivation staff.
"These jobs will be a marriage of traditional agricultural and greenhouse techniques and also emerging biotechnology techniques when it comes to propagation," said Germaine.
The plant Cannabis sativa and all its active constituents remain Schedule I drugs under federal law, however, and even state-approved medicinal marijuana will not be covered by insurance carriers. While certified patients will have to pay the cost out of pocket, Manta says a sliding scale will exist for demonstrated hardship with the appropriate paperwork, and the dispensary will offer both high-end "boutique" plant products as well as "bulk" strains that may lack some of the more desirable "connoisseur" aspects.
"There is a culture for that, and we want to cater to patients that want that sort of medicine," said DeMena, "but we also want to serve people that want to be able to afford medicine and get it."
"We're going to be nothing like California, Washington or Colorado," DeMena assured, noting that Massachusetts law is much more tightly regulated, and the commonwealth has created a new felony for anyone diverting medical plant products for other purposes.
Education on using the products obtained will also be a major component of the operation, with coaching and literature available on the uses, effects and proper legal use of the medicine provided, which will include a variety of cannabis byproducts, including oral forms and even products that offer some of the side effects without the psychoactive "high."
Currently, certification for patients through the DPH is available for seven designated illness for which the medicinal value of marijuana has been evidenced: Cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), Crohn's disease, Hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis. Patients may be able to obtain medicine for other conditions if their doctor certifies them.
Germaine and DeMena have both recently moved to Pittsfield, though Germaine says her family has lived in Becket since the 1970s, and the family-run Manna hopes to make its home in the Berkshires for years to come.
"We want to be the anchor of this program in Western Massachusetts," said Germaine.