Massachusetts: First Marijuana Dispensaries Could Open By Year's End
By Steve Elliott
The first medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts could open by the end of this year, according to a timeline released on Friday by the state Department of Public Health.
Draft regulations on the medical use of marijuana in Massachusetts were filed by the DPH, which expects the final regulations to be approved by the Public Health Council and the Secretary of State by the end of May, report Marie Szaniszio and Erin Smith at the Boston Herald.
DPH is expected to start accepting applications from prospective dispensary operators by summer, and continue reviewing shops for license approval through the fall, said Interim Commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith.
"DPH solicited an unprecedented level of input in drafting these regulations to create a medical marijuana system that is right for Massachusetts," Smith said. "In this proposal, we have sought to achieve a balanced approach that will provide appropriate access for patients, while maintaining a secure system that keeps our communities safe." ("Safe" from one of the most non-toxic substances known to man, presumably.)
DPH requires that each nonprofit medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC), as it calls dispensaries, will operate its own growing facilities. No wholesale distribution of cannabis products will be allowed.
The agency intends to "minimize" home cultivation by optimizing safe access through several approaches, including requiring that the medical marijuana industry provide discounted rates for low-income residents at all MMTCs, allowing secure home delivery when necessary, and encouraging all personal caregivers to "pick up product" at the MMTCs rather than cultivate.
Personal caregivers must be at least 21 years old, and DPH recommends that they, themselves be a qualifying patient (if not a hospice or medical employee). Caregivers can only serve one patient each, but a qualifying patient can have up to two caregivers.
DPH recommends allowing 10 ounces of cannabis for a 60-day supply, "after taking into account the amount permitted in other states that have legalized medical marijuana." (Washington state and Oregon top that list, allowing 24 ounces each per 60 days.) Physicians would have the authority to authorize more than 10 ounces per 60 days, in limited circumstances.
The agency proposes a very restrictive model for medical marijuana access for those under 18 years old, requiring guardian approval and certification by two physicians, one of whom must be a pediatrician or pediatric specialist. Only those with a life-limiting illness, likely to result in death within six months, would be certified.
Beginning immediately, DPH will accept written comments from patients, interested parties and the public at large. On April 10, the department will present its draft regulations to the Public Health Council, which will review the recommendations and approve final regulations.
On April 19, public hearings will be held in Northampton, Boston and Plymouth, and on April 20 -- that's right, folks, 4-20 -- the public comment period will close.
Patients who already have a written authorization from their physician may cultivate a supply of marijuana for personal medicinal use; until DPH finalizes regulations and implements the program, this provision remains in effect.
The agency will this spring begin determining fees for registering as medical marijuana patients. The program must, by law, be self-sustaining through the fees on MMTCs and on patients; no taxpayer dollars will be used to subsidize medical marijuana.