Compassionate Relief is Prescription for Shirley Man
AYER -- Since Massachusetts approved the sale of marijuana for medical use in November 2012, six dispensaries have opened in Massachusetts. One of them is in Ayer.
Central Ave Compassionate Care, Inc., CACCI, founded by Shirley resident John Hillier, opened in November 2015. It was the fourth dispensary to open in the state.
The industry is regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, DPH. Marijuana is both grown and sold on-site.
Hillier replied to questions about CACCI via email. The questions and answers have been edited for conciseness.
Q: Why did you get into this business?
A: I attended an early public hearing held by DPH and heard the powerful stories of patients who said they benefit from it. I decided to use my education and background in plant and soil sciences to open a dispensary in order to help those suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Q: Was it a challenge to get both town and state approval?
A: We were extremely gratified and humbled by the support from the Town of Ayer, including elected officials and the Town Meeting voters. ... The Board of Selectmen, the Board of Health and numerous other town officials were open and receptive. The community responded with tremendous support and compassion for their neighbors.
“The process with the state was necessarily rigorous given that we were creating a new regulated industry in Massachusetts. It was a lot of hard work, but I think the DPH was thorough and fair in implementing this program.
Q: This is a new industry for Massachusetts. What are some of the more unexpected things that you have experienced?
A: We adopted a policy that patients have an appointment to visit the dispensary... Initially, we adopted this policy for our benefit, so staff had adequate time to follow the procedures required for dispensing... (P)atients appreciate this policy because they do not have to wait in line at CACCI, and they have a staff member dedicated to serving them during their visit. A patient’s first consultation takes about 15-20 minutes, and follow-up visits are about five minutes.
Another unexpected outcome has been the outpouring of support from patients and their families. We are particularly touched when a patient or family member attributes our product with the patient being able to enjoy an improved quality of life.
Q: You started with three employees and now have nine. Are you on track with revenue projections made during the application process and with contributing 20 percent of your net revenues to a community grant program?
A: We made good estimates, but the time it has taken to get up and running was longer than anticipated, and that has impacted the actual outcome versus the initial estimates. Now open for about eight months, we are seeing a volume closer to our initial projections.
We remain strongly committed to returning a portion of net revenues in the form of grants to programs in the Town of Ayer. The dispensary has only been open for eight months, and our focus for now has to be on paying down debt incurred to build the business.
Q: What steps do you take to ensure the safety of staff and patients?
A: We take safety very seriously, and our facility is literally more secure than your typical bank. The building is always locked, and patients must show two forms of identification to enter. We are able to verify their identity through the DPH’s online database.
Also, we cultivate only enough product to meet the demand of our customer base, which means we do not store extra product. In addition, we are able to make regular bank deposits, which limits the currency stored on site.
Q: What interaction do you have with the Department of Public Health?
A: The DPH sends inspectors at least twice a month on unannounced inspections to ensure the dispensary is complying with all state regulations.
Q: How does someone get legal medical marijuana?
A: A qualified patient is issued a photo-ID by the DPH and must show it, along with another government-issued ID, before entering the dispensary. Our staff further verifies through the DPH database that the patient is registered with DPH and that a doctor has recommended marijuana for medical use and the amount allowed per month. We are then able to confirm the patient’s identity and see how much more product the patient may purchase.
Q: Medical marijuana is allowed by Massachusetts law but not under federal law. How does that affect CACCI?
A: While all dispensaries are organized as non-profit organizations, per state law, only the state recognizes them as non-taxable organizations. Dispensaries pay federal taxes, and the state receives registration fees charged to the dispensaries, which are $50,000 per year. Those funds are used by the state to run the DPH program that regulates registered marijuana dispensaries, so that no tax dollars are used for this purpose.
Q: Health insurance does not cover medical marijuana. What assistance is there for a patient who cannot afford the drug?
A: CACCI is also using some revenue to provide a discount to qualified patients who are veterans of the armed forces or, as required by state regulations, patients who meet federal poverty guidelines and would otherwise be unable to access the product.
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