State Releases First Draft of Medical Marijuana Rules and Regulations

The Department of Public Health says qualified patients could have up to 10 ounces of marijuana for a 60-day supply.

photo via MMMA

photo via MMMA

Medical marijuana advocates are pleased with the wording of the first round of rules drafted by state officials, which will allow patients in Massachusetts to gain access to the drug in order to help ease certain debilitating ailments.

On Friday, March 29, the Department of Public Health rolled out a preliminary set of regulations in regards to the cultivation, sale, and use of medical marijuana in the state.

According to stipulations in the 45-page proposal, qualifying patients would be allowed to have a 60-day supply of up to 10 ounces of marijuana at time, and the discretion of a patient’s need for the drug would largely be in the hands of licensed physicians. “DPH solicited an unprecedented level of input in drafting these regulations to create a medical marijuana system that is right for Massachusetts,” said the department’s Interim Commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith. “In this proposal, we have sought to achieve a balanced approach that will provide appropriate access for patients, while maintaining a secure system that keeps our communities safe.”

The proposal also sets guidelines for people interested in pursuing a career in distributing the drug by running a registered, and tightly regulated, medical marijuana dispensary. Under the state’s guidelines, there can be up to 35 dispensaries in Massachusetts, with a cap of 5 dispensaries per county, and at least one in each region, according to officials. Patients that have a “verified financial hardship, a physical inability to access reasonable transportation, or the lack of a treatment center within a reasonable distance,” will be allowed, under certain restrictions, to personally cultivate a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use if the rules are adopted.

In November 2012, Massachusetts communities overwhelmingly supported a ballot initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The majority vote made Massachusetts the eighteenth state to pass such a measure. The proposal became a law on January 1, and allows qualifying patients with serious or debilitating illnesses to have access to the drug after obtaining written certification from a licensed physician.

Anne Johnson, executive director of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association, is “pleased” with the results of the draft regulations. “It’s an exciting day for patients and caregivers because we are one step closer to having medical marijuana available to those patients that need it most,” she says. “I think for the most part, [the DPH has] tackled a lot of areas around safety and access, which are critical. This is a really good first step, and they have certainly done their homework.”

Johnson says if officials continue on this path and listen to constituent concerns when putting together the rules, Massachusetts could serve as a beacon in terms of how to handle the legalization of medical marijuana. “Now we have a document that we will study in detail and go through to make sure all of our members and patients’ needs are incorporated.”

For business owners with a vested industry in the marijuana industry, like Dr. Bruce Bedrick, the first draft of rules will make his job of getting a product to those who need it a whole lot easier. “Massachusetts and the DPH have done an incredible job. I continue to be blown away by the dedication and the diligence and the thoughtfulness. Clearly they wanted to make it work for everybody,” says Bedrick, CEO of Medbox.

Bedrick’s company, which has an office in Natick, focuses on the development and sales of automated, biometrically controlled marijuana dispensers. He says DPH “took the listening sessions to heart” so that they work for law enforcement, legislators and patients. “With the idea behind monitoring the [distribution] from seed to sale, it really sets the stage as the new gold standard,” he says of the state’s draft rules.

On April 3, Bedrick is hosting a medical marijuana educational seminar, and Medbox demo, at The Sheraton Boston, to show people interested in the industry how the devices work. “The rules and the regulatory environment in which they want to run this industry…we will fit seamlessly into that. I think that for those entrepreneurs who really want to put together a great business and have the best chance of success, Medbox offers one of the best chances [of that].”

On April 19, the state will hold public hearings in Northampton, Boston, and Plymouth, to further discuss constituent concerns with the draft proposal. The state’s Public Health Council is expected to finalized the regulations for the medical marijuana industry in early May. If passed, they will go into effect at the end of that month.

Johnson says she doesn’t have a “crystal ball,” but if all goes well, dispensaries could be up and running by the end of 2013. “I would say based on our conversations, the process of getting the final regulations and the process of opening a model for [the department] to select and approve applicants will take some time. But the good news is, we are on track.”