Now that permanent regulations governing the distribution and use of medical marijuana have been adopted by the Massachusetts Department of Health (DOH), all physicians and patients must carefully comply with these guidelines. After all, it’s still a violation of federal law to buy, use or sell marijuana. As part our our continuing series examining the new medical marijuana law as part of changes to Massachusetts drug laws, let’s examine how it affects medical practitioners.
Licensed medical doctors must be especially careful to avoid any improprieties since all errors can either harm patients or jeopardize each physician’s career.
The following regulations should be carefully reviewed by both patients qualified to receive medical marijuana and the professionals allowed to certify their needs.
Key Regulations Governing Physicians’ Written Certifications of Need
- No licensed Massachusetts doctor can provide a qualified patient with the written certification required to obtain medical marijuana unless a bona fide physician – patient relationship exists between the parties (105 CMR: 725.004). In other words, every physician is expected to first physically examine each patient and carefully review his or her medical history before issuing a written certification of need;
- In order to provide a patient with the required certification, a Massachusetts physician must have (1) at least one established place of practice in this state, (2) a fully active medical license without any prescribing restrictions and (3) hold a Massachusetts Controlled Substances Registration issued by the DOH (105 CMR: 725.005);
- In order to register with the DOH, a doctor must provide the department with his or her (1) full name and business address (2) license number issued by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and (3) all other information requested by the DOH (105 CMR: 725.005);
- Doctors must complete the required “professional development credits” noted in 243 CMR 2.06(6) which review how medical marijuana should be used, all of its known side effects and dosage issues (among other topics);
- No certified physician is allowed to “delegate to any other healthcare professional or any other person, authority to diagnose a patient as having a debilitating medical condition;” (105 CMR 725.010);
- Certified doctors must responsibly supervise all patients given “written certifications for obtaining medical marijuana;”
- Each physician must keep detailed records indicating whether a patient’s qualifying medical condition is still “active;”
- Doctors must clearly indicate the time period covered by a written certification. It must be for at least 15 calendar days but for no more than one year;
- No doctor can ever provide a written certification to a patient before seeing that person for a “clinical visit;”
- “A renewal written certification may be submitted [by a physician] after a clinical visit or telephone consultation, however, a clinical visit must occur no less than once per year.” (Emphasis added);
- Although most written certifications are intended for adults age 18 or older, the regulations do make special allowances for some young people below the age of 18 (Section 105 CMR 725.010 (J). In a nutshell, those under age 18 must be “diagnosed by two Massachusetts licensed certifying physicians . . .”
Hopefully, medical marijuana will help ease the pain and discomfort many Massachusetts patients experience with their serious health problems. However, this new program will only work if their physicians abide by all of the new DOH regulations and continue to properly maintain their medical licenses without any restrictions.
By Elizabeth Smith