After the recent finalization of the state Department of Public Health (DPH) regulations, the limited use of medical marijuana voted into law in Massachusetts last year is becoming a reality. Manna Wellness Inc., a local, environmentally friendly non-profit organization, is looking to lead the movement in the Berkshires. The company intends to build a new high-tech, eco-friendly marijuana dispensary facility about two miles from downtown Pittsfield, pending state and local approvals.
Last November, Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana initiative allowing licensed dispensaries and marijuana prescriptions for patients suffering from terminal or chronic illnesses. Currently, patient certification is available for seven designated illnesses 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. Since the approval, state government officials have worked toward fulfilling the regulatory frameworks passed in May by the Massachusetts DPH, which went into effect the same month. At the same time, some local governments, like Pittsfield, examined their zoning laws to accommodate dispensaries.
Manna Wellness is the first group to publicly express formal interest for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Berkshires. Dr. Eric Germaine, a retired veterinarian living in Becket since the mid-1970s, recently founded Manna and is acting as the executive director as well as president of the company. “The mission of Manna Wellness is to provide patients with debilitating conditions with life-enhancing medicine and to work closely with municipal officials, health care groups, local law enforcement, public safety organizations, patient organizations and the community throughout the licensing process,” Eric Germaine said in a prepared statement. This non-profit is currently a Phase II candidate to become a registered marijuana dispensary (RMD) under the DPH.
Assuming Manna Wellness is approved via legislation, their proposed new building would be a low-impact, energy efficient center, potentially taking advantage of solar, geothermal and non-toxic aqueous battery technologies. “No other dispensary in America right now is a LEED-certified green building. No one in the history of this industry has done that,” Nial DeMena, director of operations for the nonprofit, said at a public presentation at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge on Oct. 9.
In addition, Director of Resources Julia Germaine, daughter of Eric Germaine, said the operation intends to create about 15 high-paying jobs in patient care, security and cultivation staff within its first few years. “These jobs will be a marriage of traditional agricultural and greenhouse techniques and also emerging biotechnology techniques when it comes to propagation,” Julia Germaine said.
Product education, including coaching and literature on the uses, effects and proper legal use of the medicine provided, will also be a large part of the operation. This information will vary based on the variety of cannabis products and byproducts provided, including oral forms as well as some products that offer some side effects without the psychoactive high.
Cannabis sativa remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, and therefore, even state-approved medical marijuana may not be covered by insurance carriers. To counter this, since certified patients must pay out of pocket, Manna plans to have a sliding scale in pricing for those with demonstrated hardship. In addition, the dispensary will offer both high-end “boutique” plant products and “bulk” strains. This is to cater both to people who desire certain kinds of medicine as well as those who just simply want to afford it, according to DeMena.
“We are trying to leave a small carbon footprint, we’re trying to be environmentally friendly and we’re trying to accommodate the community,” DeMena said.
As Germaine described, Manna Wellness hopes to become the base of medical marijuana for all of western Massachussetts.