Beacon Hill Officials Are Trying to Rewrite the Medical Marijuana Rules

Weed advocates don't agree with the suggestions being made by the legislature.

Photo via the MMMA

Photo via the MMMA

Medical marijuana advocates aren’t pleased with proposed law changes being pushed on Beacon Hill, months after voters already approved of a ballot initiative to legalize the drug for medical purposes in Massachusetts.

On Monday, members of legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health discussed and took testimony on four bills that would essentially tweak the draft rules for distributing and cultivating medical marijuana, which were put together by the state’s Department of Public Health and released in March.

Anne Johnson, executive director of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Association, says she doesn’t support any changes that would keep medical marijuana out of the hands of patients who need it. “We think the process so far has been a good one. There are no arguments for delay that make a lot of sense to us. The electorate has voted to make marijuana available, and hearing from some of the patients, [these bills] would really jeopardize their treatment and cause them to have continued pain.”

Johnson attended the hours-long hearing on Beacon Hill on Monday, as elected officials mulled over proposals like the one from Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, which would rewrite the guidelines presented by the DPH and require medical marijuana to be home-delivered rather than sold through dispensaries statewide. It would also put the DPH in charge of deciding what ailments can be treated with marijuana, rather than leaving it up to doctors, according to the State House News Service.

Other proposals heard Tuesday would delay the roll-out of the distribution process, or restrict where dispensaries could open.

Johnson and members of the MMMA say the proposed legislation would “impede patient access to medical marijuana,” which would conflict with the voter consensus that overwhelmingly approved of legalization of the drug for medical purposes. “I think people in the patient community are opposed to [these bills] and they are being pretty vocal about that. In terms in some of the issues we talked about, [the legislature] doesn’t seem to understand that some of the issues are actually addressed in the [DPH draft] regulations. I am hopeful that none of these [bills] pass,” says Johnson.

Officials from the DPH released draft regulations for the use and distribution of medical marijuana in the state, based on the ballot initiative passed by voters last November, which are set for a vote on Wednesday, May 8. “We have made significant progress in advancing this law and we are confident that the final medical marijuana regulations will be balanced, taking into account patient needs, while also promoting safe communities,” DPH said in a statement on Tuesday. “The draft regulations reflect unprecedented public input from hundreds of stakeholders across the state, including three open listening sessions and three public hearings on draft regulations. DPH also took into account best practices from 17 other states in proposing a system that will work for Massachusetts.”

If the regulations are approved by the Public Health Council Wednesday, they will go into effect on May 24.

Johnson and other advocates were pleased with the wording of the first round of rules drafted by state officials in March, which will essentially allow patients in Massachusetts to gain access to the drug in order to help ease certain debilitating ailments. 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.

“Drafting these 45 pages, and now taking some more time to craft some final regulations has been working well and we think with this process to date should be allowed to continue, and we are hopeful things can stay on track,” says Johnson.