Massachusetts becomes the 18th medical marijuana state; now comes the difficult work of implementation

November 28, 2012 | Kris Hermes
Earlier this month, an overwhelming sixty-three percent of Massachusetts voters approved Ballot Question 3 and, in so doing, became the country’s 18th state to pass a medical marijuana law. Massachusetts is now the latest in a growing number of states that are choosing to implement their own public health laws, regardless of any reluctance by the Obama Administration to develop a comprehensive federal policy on medical marijuana.

But, getting Massachusetts voters to turn out in sufficient numbers to pass Ballot Question 3 was only the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy implementation process.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has 120 days after the law is enacted on January 1, 2013 to design regulations that will help DPH implement the law. However, until the program is up and running, patients can still go see their physician to discuss medical marijuana and, after January 1st, can obtain a recommendation for its use. That way, patients can be protected, without delay, from any unnecessary law enforcement incursions.

The new law restricts qualifying patients from possessing “more marijuana than is necessary for the patient’s personal, medical use, not exceeding the amount necessary for a sixty-day supply.” Therefore, in addition to developing a patient registration process in the first 120 days, DPH is tasked with using “the best available evidence” to determine what might constitute a 60-day supply of medical marijuana.

DPH then has until January 1, 2014, one year after enactment, to license distribution facilities, called “nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers,” thereby making medical marijuana accessible to patients throughout the state. The law requires that in the first year DPH must license at least fourteen treatment centers, one for each county in Massachusetts, but no more than five per county and no more than 35 for the entire state.

The law tightly restricts cultivation in the state, requiring licensed treatment centers to produce their own supply and, generally, preventing patients from cultivating themselves. However, patients who can show a financial and/or physical hardship can apply to DPH to grow their own, once those regulations are established.

Because it’s important to involve patients throughout the implementation process, Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), the group largely responsible for the law’s passage, will be embarking soon on a campaign to educate patients and ensure they are contributing to the development of statewide regulations. MPAA is currently preparing an FAQ for patients and concerned Massachusetts residents. Educational material will also be accessible at MPAA’s website: www.MassPatients.org, and yet-to-be-scheduled public education events are being planned over the next few months.

According to MPAA’s Matt Allen:
We’re here to make sure that patients are fully involved in the implementation process, and since this is a public health issue we want to make sure that patients’ needs are recognized and respected.

MPAA is also continuing to build its base of advocates in order to begin the process of working with DPH and the state legislature so that the law will work effectively. If you’re a Massachusetts resident and want to get more involved in the law’s implementation, go to the MPAA website and fill in your contact info. Together we can make the law work for Massachusetts patients!
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