Massachusetts: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries May Open This Summer
By Steve Elliott
Medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts could have safe access through dispensaries by this summer. State public health officials plan to approve final regulations for the shops this spring.
Draft regulations will be issued March 29 by the Department of Public Health, reports Josh Stilts at the The Berkshire Eagle. If approved by the Public Health Council, which reviews all health policies in the state, the rules could go into effect May 24.
Massachusetts cities are not allowed to completely ban local medical marijuana dispensaries, according to a recent ruling by Attorney General Martha M. Coakley. They can, however, regulate and/or delay them through zoning and other measures.
The attorney general's ruling, prompted by a dispensary ban enacted last fall by the town of Wakefield, says that local bans would conflict with the intent of the state's medical marijuana law, approved by 63 percent of state voters in November. Wakefield's dispensary ban came just one week after medical marijuana was legalized.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had written Coakley last month, urging her to rule against Wakefield's bylaw which banned dispensaries.
"The purpose of Question 3 was to legalize medical marijuana and to create a statewide system of treatment centers making it available to patients with prescriptions from their treating physicians," said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. "Wakefield's ban would thwart that purpose."
The law allows up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries within the state, but no more than five in any one county.
Cheryl A. Bartlett, a deputy interim commissioner with the state Department of Public Health, spelled out during a hearing before the Public Health Council, the first official timeline for implementing medical marijuana.
According to Bartlett, the department will file draft regulations for medical marijuana by March 29, and will present those regulations to the Public Health Council on April 10.
"We feel it is important to put forward these regulations into the public domain as quickly as possible so as to allow prospective medical marijuana treatment center applicants sufficient time to study our regulations prior to engaging in a competitive application process this summer and fall," Bartlett said.
(Illustration: The Daily Chronic)