Mass. panel OKs rules for medical marijuana
May 08, 2013
Donna Boynton, Worcester TelegramThe state Public Health Council unanimously approved regulations Wednesday for the medicinal use of marijuana, and those regulations will go into effect May 24. The Department of Public Health “has carefully considered hundreds of opinions and concerns from across the commonwealth to create a medical marijuana system that is right for Massachusetts,” said Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of DPH, in a statement. “The final regulations reflect a balanced approach that will provide appropriate access to patients, while maintaining a secure system that keeps our communities safe.”
The adopted regulations were lauded by advocates as an improvement over the draft regulations presented last month, in that they are less restrictive to patients.
Voters approved the law in November, allowing for the medicinal use of marijuana, and calling for at least one and no more than five registered marijuana dispensaries to be located in each county. Approval of the law also required the state Department of Public Health to draft regulations for medical marijuana use in Massachusetts.
The DPH is still working to determine application and registration fees. Under the law, the medical marijuana program must be self-sustaining through those fees.
The competitive application process for dispensaries will begin in the summer and fall.
While the DPH will oversee the registration of patients and dispensaries, inspection of dispensaries and enforcement, local municipalities can assess fees or pass local zoning and siting regulations. The regulations require applicants to notify communities early in the application process, and allow local authorities certain rights to inspect dispensaries in their community.
“We applaud the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for continuing to work expeditiously to implement the state medical marijuana law,” Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said in a statement. “We are pleased that many of the issues patients expressed concern about were improved from the draft regulations.”
The DPH has been working on the regulations for the past several months. Medical marijuana treatment centers are now referred to as registered marijuana dispensaries. The dispensaries are required to be nonprofit organizations and will operate their own cultivation and dispensary facilities, which creates uniform “seed-to-sale” oversight and provides maximum security.
According to the DPH, the Public Health Council changed the term “medical marijuana treatment centers” to “registered marijuana dispensaries” because the facilities are limited to cultivating, preparing and dispensing marijuana products, not providing treatment to patients.
In addition, limited wholesale distribution of marijuana will be allowed only between dispensaries to ensure access for patients with legitimate needs as defined by the law.
A patient with a debilitating or serious medical condition is allowed to have a 60-day supply of marijuana, which is defined as up to 10 ounces. The decision on which medical conditions qualify for marijuana treatment is left between a physician and patient. Under limited circumstances, physicians can increase the amount of that 60-day supply.
Another significant change under the approved regulations is that patients are now allowed to choose at which dispensary they will purchase products, much the same way they can choose which pharmacy to use. The draft regulations had required patients to register to use only one dispensary. The change will allow patients appropriate access, but places strict requirements on the dispensaries.
The approved regulations also limit hardship cultivation by mandating that discounted rates are offered to low income residents at all dispensaries, providing secure home delivery when necessary; and allowing personal caregivers to pick up a product for a patient at a dispensary.
A personal caregiver is a friend or relative of a patient who is over the age of 21. The regulations limit caregivers — except certain health care workers — to serving only one patient. A patient may have up to two caregivers.
Patients younger than 18 can use medical marijuana if approval is received by the parent or guardian and is certified by two physicians, one of whom must be a pediatrician. The child must have a life-limiting illness, meaning it will lead to death within two years.
However, “recognizing the need of a small population of youth with debilitating conditions that may not lead rapidly to death, two physicians may override the life-limiting restriction if they determine the benefits of medical use of marijuana to outweigh the risks,” according to the DPH.
“The final regulations ease some of the obstacles that would have been created by the draft regulations for physicians who want to incorporate this medicine into their practice,” said Dr. Karen Munkacy, an anesthesiologist and delegate to the Massachusetts Medical Society and a board member of ASA.