WHO CAN RUN A DISPENSARY? As written, the law imposes very few limitations on who can run a treatment center. The law specifies that treatment centers must be nonprofits — which isn't to say that the centers can't generate revenue. Under the umbrella of a nonprofit organization, individuals and divisions can make quite a bit of money. For instance, in Florida, a nonprofit educational foundation, the Poynter Institute, operates a (theoretically) for-profit newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times. It remains to be seen whether a nonprofit treatment center will be allowed to operate, for instance, a for-profit lab or grow facility.
The law also specifies that the board of the nonprofit can't contain anyone who's been on the board of another such facility that's had its medical-marijuana license revoked. Dispensary agents have to be at least 21 and registered with the DPH, and cannot have "been convicted of a felony drug offense."
HOW MUCH WILL IT COST TO OPEN A DISPENSARY? Unclear. Aside from all the costs of operating a location, maintaining a staff, securing the marijuana, and administering the product, there will be at least one state-mandated cost: an application fee, which the DPH is supposed to set within 90 days. The law says that the administrative cost to the state of maintaining the medical-marijuana program must be revenue-neutral — meaning that whatever the size of the DPH's bureaucracy, the cost must be paid for through the application fee charged to people who want to set up a dispensary. If the bureaucracy is a big one, that could mean a pretty hefty application fee — especially for a nonprofit.
Access to capital may not come easy. In August, CNBC.com reported that banks are refusing to deal with Colorado medical-marijuana businesses — because, in the words of one dispensary owner, the banks are afraid of running afoul of federal law, and perhaps losing FDIC protection.
That kind of financial uncertainty makes it more likely that the biggest investors in medical-marijuana companies could end up being . . . other medical-marijuana companies. In Maine, four of the eight dispensaries opened in that state's first year of operation are owned by the same company: Wellness Connection of Maine. In June, the company settled out of court with a California dispensary firm that alleged Wellness owed it over a half-million dollars in loans, according to the Portland Press-Herald. The same article indicated Wellness Connection had also inked an eight-year, $1.6 million deal with a consulting company affiliated with another group of California dispensaries.
CAN YOU GET MEDICAL MARIJUANA FROM A PLACE OTHER THAN A DISPENSARY? Yes. Until the DPH sets up a system of dispensaries, the law allows patients — only after they submit a qualifying letter from their physician — to grow their own weed. (If they're physically unable to grow their own, they can assign the task of growing to a caretaker.) The law indicates that this provision ends after the DPH gets up and running. Under the law's "hardship provision," if you can prove your access to treatment is limited by financial hardship, by a physical incapacity to obtain transportation to a treatment center, or by the lack of treatment center within a "reasonable" distance, then you can get permission to grow your own.