Current Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Draft Regulations Overview

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s draft regulations for handling the sale of medical marijuana are now posted on its website. Details addressed include specific medical condition eligibility, which medical professionals can prescribe, defining a legal 60 day medical supply, and when patients have the right to grow their own. Ongoing debate regarding these regulations will continue through April 20th.  The Massachusetts Public Health Council still hopes to pass a final draft of these regulations on May 8, 2013.  If that occurs, these legal guidelines will take effect on May 24, 2013.

MedicationsSo far, the state of Massachusetts has received useful commentary from numerous interest groups about many of the critical topics addressed by the regulations.  The following list notes many of the issues requiring further debate and resolution before the state can finally start providing medical marijuana to its qualified patients.

Key Regulatory Topics Still Requiring Further Discussion and Refinement

  • Properly Defining Patients in Need of Medical Marijuana (MM). Although most commentators realize that eligibility for MM must be strictly limited, there is still concern that some patients who need the drug may be excluded if their conditions are not included in a rigid list of diseases created by the state.  The Department of Public Health (DPH) Medical Marijuana Work Group addresses this specific issue in its Informational Brief on the Proposed Regulations. While most invasive cancers, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), AIDS, glaucoma, and others will surely be included on such a list, concern remains about how the term “debilitating” should be defined. Many advocates prefer giving extensive discretion to treating physicians who are qualified to make these decisions. They know how to properly evaluate such medical symptoms as “weakness, cachexia/wasting syndrome, intractable pain,” nausea and others.
  • Defining a 60-Day Supply of Medical Marijuana (MM). Obviously, proper dosages for various conditions (at different stages of each disease) may require flexibility for patients to receive full benefit from their MM. However, the state knows it must develop a standard for how much the average MM patient may keep in his or her home (or in his or her possession) – in order to help distinguish it from the illegal, criminal possession of the drug. At present, the state is proposing that “10 ounces of finished product in leaf form (or equivalent)” be the appropriate, maximum amount a MM patient should be allowed to possess at any given time.
  • Requiring Proper Registration of MMTCs, Doctors, Patients and Caregivers.  Patients must make sure they obtain their MM prescriptions within a “bonafide physician-patient relationship.” Veterans requiring this type of RX cannot obtain one from a federal VA hospital given the conflict with federal law regarding marijuana – instead, they must establish a proper, formal relationship with an outside doctor to obtain a prescription. All qualifying patients will have the right to designate up to two different caregivers (over the age of 21) who can help pick up the MM from a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) and help them use the drug for their sole benefit. In addition to the doctors, patients, and caregivers, the MMTCs must also register with the state.
  • Hardship Cultivation Registration.  One reason qualified patients can designate caregivers is that they may be so ill that they need others to pick up their MM for them. Registered caregivers (over the age of 21) are allowed to do this. However, if an individual cannot for some reason designate a registered caregiver, that person may need to register for the right to grown his or her own MM. While this option is still being kept open, it greatly concerns property owners who don’t want to see their property damaged — or be accused of allowing tenants to violate federal drug laws on their land.
  • Product Quality and Safety Testing. Many people are concerned about the MM being regularly tested by the treatment centers selling it. Ongoing tests are needed to evaluate whether or not the MM contains harmful molds, chemicals or metals.
  • Youth Access to the Drug.  The state must make a final decision about whether or not anyone under the age of 18 can ever be considered a “qualifying MM patient.” Questions remain about the long-term damage MM can cause to young people’s bodies.  Also, Massachusetts hopes to avoid the dilemma found in other states that have MM laws. Some of them have seen an increase in juvenile abuse of marijuana when it’s also being provided to medical marijuana patients.
  • Appropriate Advertising for the MMTCs. Massachusetts remains very concerned about the possible mixed messages it may be sending to youth and other citizens by calling too much attention to its MM program – especially since the state will still be enforcing penalties against those who use or sell marijuana for purely recreational purposes.

Readers interested in learning more about the proposed draft regulations can do so by clicking here.

Marijuana use and sale other than decriminalized amounts under 1 oz remains illegal. Police will still arrest you if they suspect you of selling it (and there are no legal medical sales sanctioned as yet), so patients who choose to self-medicate as the legal landscape remains cloudy should still be cautious.

article By Elizabeth Smith

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