Medical marijuana

A medical marijuana dispensary is poised to open soon in Keene, the culmination of a months-long process to shorten the commutes of the hundreds of residents of Cheshire and Sullivan counties who use therapeutic cannabis.

The new clinic is slated to open at 69 Island St. sometime mid-year, according to an official with the company that will run it.

Data from the state’s therapeutic cannabis program show the number of local residents who use medical marijuana is growing. Between July 2017 and June 2018, almost 700 residents from the two counties had medical marijuana cards, up from nearly 400 in the previous year. That trend mirrors the growth in registered medical marijuana users in the state.

Ted Rebholz, founder and CEO of Temescal Wellness, the company that will operate the Keene dispensary, said he signed the lease for the vacant Island Street building in December.

“It’s huge (for patients),” Rebholz said of the dispensary he plans to open. “We’re absolutely ecstatic.”

New Hampshire’s medical marijuana law, which has been in effect since 2013, legalized the use of cannabis for a limited number of medical conditions and with strict permitting. It authorized four dispensaries across the state, which led to the opening of dispensaries in Lebanon and Plymouth, both in Grafton County; Dover, in Strafford County; and Merrimack, in Hillsborough County.

But the location of these clinics means that Cheshire County residents have to travel far to get their prescriptions filled. The two closest options for people in the Monadnock Region are the dispensaries in Merrimack, almost 50 miles from Keene, and in Lebanon, nearly 70 miles from the Elm City.

The Keene dispensary will change that and may mean that patients who are eligible for medical marijuana but couldn’t get to the other dispensaries will try it, Rebholz said.

“We hope that, in addition to being more convenient for our existing patients, that this (opening) publicizes and makes other would-be patients aware that they also have us as a therapeutic alternative,” he said.

State law permits the use of medical marijuana for conditions ranging from cancer and chronic pain to Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma.

Temescal, which already has dispensaries in Dover and Lebanon as well as in Massachusetts and Maryland, received approval from the state to operate the new dispensary in Cheshire County after Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill to that effect in May. Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, introduced an amendment to include a dispensary in either Cheshire or Sullivan counties into the original bill, which allowed for the establishment of a new dispensary in Carroll, Coos or Grafton counties.

Even so, Rebholz told The Sentinel in May that he couldn’t open a dispensary in Keene because of his organization’s ability to obtain financing, owing to a state law that says dispensaries must be nonprofit organizations.

Rebholz said Wednesday that Temescal’s New Hampshire dispensaries have grown, and the company is using part of the resulting income to open the Keene clinic.

Rebholz called the Island Street location ideal for the Keene dispensary; the building used to house a family medical practice, and as such, there’s ample parking for customers.

But he said there’s still much to be done before the clinic is ready to open, including renovations to the building’s interior and hiring staff.

One potential hurdle yet to clear is the need to secure zoning approval from the city’s community development department. Rebholz said he is in the process of submitting a letter of intent to the city, outlining how he will use the space.

In August, Rebholz and Kahn met with city officials, including Mayor Kendall W. Lane, City Manager Elizabeth Dragon and representatives from the city’s fire and police departments, according to Dragon.

Dragon said Rebholz sought a location that would not require him to seek a zoning variance. The city suggested he look at vacant medical facilities, because the clinic he proposed was a similar use, she said.

Kahn said he will continue to be involved in the implementation process for the Keene dispensary and with issues surrounding medical marijuana. He said he has already introduced two bills in recent weeks to help the local clinic and others like it grow, including a bill that would eliminate the 90-day wait period between getting and filling a medical cannabis prescription and a bill that would allow dispensaries to become for-profit entities, rather than nonprofit organizations, as current law dictates.

Liora Engel-Smith can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or lsmith@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @LEngelSmithKS.