Massachusetts: Panel Approves Rules For Medical Marijuana

Massachusetts: Cannabis Trade Group Advises Prospective Dispensary OwnersBy Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Public health officials in Massachusetts on Wednesday approved final regulations for the state's medical marijuana program, preparing for the voter-approved law to take effect. However, it will likely be a few more months before the first medical marijuana dispensaries open in the state.

Massachusetts in November became the 18th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, allowing patients with cancer, Parkinson's disease and HIV to use cannabis with their doctor's authorization, reports Bob Salsberg at WBUR. The regulations also allow doctors to authorize marijuana for other debilitating conditions not specifically listed in the rules.

The Public Health Council unanimously approved the 45 pages of regulations, which will allow authorized patients to buy and possess up to 10 ounces as a 60-day supply, though some patients could be authorized for greater amounts with permission from their doctors.

Up to 35 dispensaries will be licensed to operate around the state.

The council changed the official title of the dispensaries before approving the final regulations. What had been known as "medical marijuana treatment centers" became "registered marijuana dispensaries," apparently reflecting the view of John Cunningham, one of the doctors on the panel, that marijuana has never been "officially proven" as a medical treatment, reports Dan Ring at The Republican. (Cunningham really needs to have a look at Granny Storm Crow's List).

Officials said on Wednesday that the regulations were based on feedback from hundreds of patients and others, and also incorporate lessons from medical marijuana programs in other states.

The agency opted to let doctors use their own discretion in recommending medical marijuana for debilitating conditions other than those specifically listed, saying those types of decisions are best left to doctors.

The regulations require marijuana dispensary operators to test for contaminants including pesticides, mold and mildew. The testing must be done by independent, third-party labs with no financial connection to the dispensary, and lab technicians will have special permission to legally possess marijuana at their facilities.

Patients will be required to obtain their marijuana from one of the licensed dispensaries, but hardship exceptions in the rules allow for some seriously ill patients to cultivate cannabis at home if circumstances make it impossible for them to buy marijuana at a dispensary.

Marijuana products which are packaged to look like candy are banned under the regulations.

The rules go into effect on May 24, but Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the Department of Health, said it was unlikely that any dispensaries will be up and running before the end of the year. The law will allow some patients to grow their own marijuana in the interim period before dispensaries are open.

While towns cannot ban marijuana dispensaries, they can impose zoning restrictions on them, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has ruled.

Sixty-three percent of state voters approved the medical marijuana law last November. Voters in 349 out of 351 cities and towns approved the referendum.