Massachusetts becomes 18th medical marijuana state as Question 3 becomes law
BOSTON, MA — As revelers celebrated their first kiss of 2013, fireworks bursting overhead, the clock striking midnight signified more than just the turning of the calendar in Massachusetts. As 2012 became 2013, a new era of compassionate medicine began in a state that already is home to some of the best healthcare organizations in the world.
As of midnight, Massachusetts officially joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing the value of medical cannabis with the voter approved Question 3 becoming law.
Although the law allowing the use of marijuana for patients with serious medical conditions goes into effect Jan. 1, the implementation of the medical marijuana program in the Bay State has just begun, and the first dispensaries could be a year or more away from opening. Exactly how the medical marijuana system in the Bay State will work will be uncertain until regulations are issued by the state Department of Public Health.
Under the new law, the Department of Public Health has until May 1, 2013 to craft the rules and regulations for the state-supervised medical marijuana program, including the guidelines for the operation of medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the text of Question 3, up to 35 dispensaries can open state-wide. The law requires at least one, but not more than 5, dispensaries to open in each of Massachusetts’ 14 counties.
The state is required to create a process for non-profit entities to apply for registrations to operate medical marijuana treatment centers by May 2013. Until the application process has been finalized and approved, applications to open a dispensary will not be accepted. The state also has until January 2014 to approve the applications and issue registrations to the dispensaries, and then another 90 days to licence and approve the dispensaries to open, so it is possible – and likely – that the first dispensaries in Massachusetts will not be open until late March, 2014.
Until the dispensaries are open, the law allows qualifying patients to grow a limited amount of medical marijuana to ensure they have safe access to their medication. This right to grow expires once the dispensaries open, except for patients with permission from the state based on financial hardship or physical incapacity to travel to a nearby dispensary. Like much of Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program, the process for applying for a hardship cultivation registration will be defined in the state’s rules and regulations.
Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law will allow patients to possess up to a 60 day supply of medial marijuana, but the amount that constitutes a 60 day supply will be defined by the Department of Public Health’s regulations. Currently, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in Massachusetts is a decriminalized civil violation, punishable by a $100 fine for those without medical marijuana protection.
To be protected as a patient under the Massachusetts medical marijuana law, patients must receive a written recommendation from their doctor after January 1. Patients must have an existing bona-fide relationship with the recommending physician, such as their primary care physician or a specialist that their primary care physician has referred them to for treatment.
The physicians must state in their recommendation that the potential medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the qualifying patient and specify the patient’s debilitating medical condition.
Once the law has been fully implemented, these recommendations will be verified by the state and a medical marijuana identification card will be issued. Until approval of the final regulations, which will be written by the state Department of Public Health, the physician’s written certification will constitute a registration card for a qualifying patient.
Under Question 3, patients who suffer from cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, AIDS and other conditions determined by a doctor can seek alternative treatment through medical marijuana.