Draft rules for medical use of marijuana in Massachusetts, issued Friday by the state Department of Public Health, largely leave it up to doctors to decide which patients will qualify for treatment with the drug.
Patients must have a debilitating condition—defined as causing weakness, wasting syndrome, intractable pain or nausea, or impairing strength or ability and limiting major life activities—and the regulations list qualifying conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and ALS. But the rules also would allow doctors and their patients to decide what other conditions would qualify patients for treatment.
The 45 pages of rules also would require applicants wishing to open a medical marijuana treatment center, known as a dispensary, to be a nonprofit and to operate their own cultivation and dispensing facilities. No wholesale distribution of marijuana products would be allowed, the department said in a news release.
“This allows for uniform seed-to-sale control and maximized security,” the release said.
Voters in November approved a ballot referendum that legalized marijuana for medical use, but the measure left it to the health department to issue regulations that would implement the law.
The referendum allowed patients to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for personal use, but did not define the specific amount. The draft regulations define that supply as up to 10 ounces. The department said it took into account the “best practices” from 17 other states that have legalized marijuana for medical use in crafting Massachusetts’ proposed regulations.
Regulators also said they intend to “minimize home cultivation” through a variety of approaches, including mandating the industry to provide and finance discounted rates for low-income residents at all dispensaries, allowing “secure home delivery where necessary,” and encouraging patients’ personal caregivers to pick up products in lieu of growing marijuana at home.
“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,” said interim public health commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith.
The department said it will accept written comments immediately from patients, interested parties, and the public at large. On April 10, the department will present the draft regulations to the Public Health Council, an appointed body of physicians, academics and policy-makers, who have the responsibility for reviewing the department’s recommendations and approving final regulations.
On April 19, public hearings will be held in Northampton, Boston, and Plymouth, and on April 20 the public comment period will close, the department said.
State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, said in a statement that the public should realize the rules issued Friday are only a “midpoint” of a long regulatory process.
“There is still time for citizens to weigh in on this proposal and I encourage them to do so through the Department’s public hearings or through written comment,” Sanchez said.
The Public Health Council is slated to vote on final rules May 8, and if approved, those rules would go into effect May 24, the department said.