Medical marijuana was approved by Massachusetts voters last November and the state’s program went into effect on January 1st. The state Department of Public Health was given until the beginning of April to establish a set of guidelines.
On Friday, the DPH submitted their recommendations to the state Public Health Council, who must vote to approve them after a series of public hearings. The recommendations span a 45 page document covering everything from patient rights to growing to dispensaries.
“DPH solicited an unprecedented level of input in drafting these regulations to create a medical marijuana system that is right for Massachusetts,” the agency’s interim commissioner, Dr. Lauren Smith, said in a statement.
“We have sought to achieve a balanced approach that will provide appropriate access for patients, while maintaining a secure system that keeps out communities safe,” she said.
The department recommended that medical marijuana patients be able to purchase a 60-day supply of up to 10 ounces of marijuana from a collective. The new law allows for up to 35 dispensaries throughout the state where patients can purchase their medicine.
The department also is recommending that each collective cultivate their own marijuana in order to facilitate seed to sale tracking and create a secure system. Medical marijuana will never be allowed to be sold on a wholesale scale, as long as the DPH’s recommendations are approved.
Patients will not be allowed to grow their own marijuana, with the exception of certain hardship cases where the patient is unable to get their medicine from a collective. Because the cost of buying marijuana at a collective can be a deterrent to some patients with less money, the DPH has recommended mandatory discounts for patients with low-income levels in order to discourage illegal home grows.
The rules would also allow doctors to largely control which patients are recommended medical marijuana. There is a list of qualifying conditions– including cancer, MS, hepatits C, HIV, and glaucoma– but there is also a stipulation that says doctors may recommend medical marijuana to patients if they believe it could help them with their symptoms from another illness.
State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Boston, the House chairman of the Legislature’s public health committee, said the draft rules were only a midpoint in what will be a lengthy regulatory process.
“There is still time for citizens to weigh in on this proposal and I encourage them to do so … through the public hearings or through written comment,” Sanchez said.
The recommendations will be put before the Massachusetts Public Health Council on April 1oth. The MPHC is a group of policy makers, physicians, and academics who review the department’s recommendations and approve the final regulations. Public hearings are the next step for the drafted regulations, and will take place on April 19th in Northampton, Plymouth, and Boston. The public comment period will close on April 20th.
It is anticipated that the Public Health Council will vote on the final rules on May 8th. If approved, the regulations would go into effect on May 24th.