Massachusetts Department of Public Health Issues Draft Regulations for Medical Marijuana

March 29, 2013
Boston, MA --  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) issued draft regulations today to begin implementation of the state's first medical marijuana program, ahead of its own schedule. Today's proposed regulations are the work of weeks of deliberation, during which DPH sought input from medical marijuana patients and other stakeholders, indicating a willingness to address issues being raised by the patient community.

Patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) in coalition with Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA) and the ACLU have been working with DPH to offer guidance and recommendations regarding the proposed regulations. "We applaud the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for its efforts to expeditiously implement the state medical marijuana law," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "We feel confident that any issues patients still have can and will be resolved in a timely manner."

Today's regulations establish the framework for the Massachusetts medical marijuana program, or Question 3, which was ushered in last November by 63 percent of the state's voters. The law allows qualifying patients with serious illnesses to get a recommendation from their licensed physician for the use of marijuana, and further enables patients to obtain their medicine from a registered Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC).

Overseen by DPH, the MMTCs will be licensed to cultivate, process, and sell medical marijuana to qualifying patients who are allowed to obtain up to 10 ounces in a 60 day period. Patients who qualify under a hardship provision will be able to cultivate for themselves if unable to access a MMTC due to distance, disability, or low income.

Although advocates find the draft regulations generally acceptable, there remain concerns over a few provisions that could limit patients’ access to medical marijuana. For example, the draft regulations require physicians to register with DPH and undergo mandatory training before being authorized to recommend marijuana to their patients. Patients are concerned that this requirement will chill physician participation in the program and make it more difficult for patients to obtain a recommendation. In addition, the regulations prohibit patients from obtaining their medication from more than one MMTC, and place unique and onerous restrictions on minors who might benefit from medical marijuana.

Dr. Karen Munkacy, an anesthesiologist and delegate to the Massachusetts Medical Society, as well as a board member of ASA, agreed that educating doctors about medical marijuana would be helpful. But, Dr. Munkacy also said "I have concerns about any regulation that would create additional obstacles for physicians who want to incorporate this medicine into their practice.”

DPH will now present the regulations to the Department’s Public Health Council (PHC) on April 10th. DPH will then hold public hearings on April 19th and close written public comment on April 20th. After the final draft regulations have been completed, they will be presented again to the PHC on May 8th and, if adopted, will go into effect on May 24th.

Further information:
MA Dept. of Public Health Draft Regulations for Medical Marijuana: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/legal/med-marijuana/med-marijuana-propose-reg.pdf

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