After legalizing medical marijuana in November, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health announced March 13 that it will file draft regulations with the Secretary of State and officially open policies to public review.
The initiative, which passed with 63 percent of the vote, allows for up to 35 marijuana dispensaries, at least one in each county, to grow and sell marijuana to qualified patients. These dispensaries will be approved and overseen by DPH, and draft regulations must be filed by March 29 and be approved by May 1, according to a statement Wednesday.
“The voters gave the department a clear mandate and an aggressive timeline for [creation] of these regulations,” said Cheryl Bartlett, DPH interim deputy commissioner in the statement. “We have actively solicited input from interested parties in shaping these regulations in an effort to put in place a system that is right for Massachusetts,”
The DPH must create regulations within 120 days that set application fees for the dispensaries to fully cover the cost to the Commonwealth, define the quantity of marijuana that constitutes a 60-day supply and create rules for cultivation and storage of marijuana, according to the medical marijuana statute that went into effect Jan. 1.
Local governments in Wakefield, Reading and Melrose attempted to ban dispensaries from their towns, but Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a release Wednesday that total bans on dispensaries were not allowed.
Matt Simon, representative of the Marijuana Policy Project, said enforcement of the regulations is up to dispensary owners to deal with local resistance in order to create an effective program.
“The better job [dispensary owners] are able to do of getting local approval and making local officials and governments comfortable with these facilities and where they’re operated will contribute to the success of the program,” Simon said.
While Simon said there has been local government opposition in other states, he said the clash is just part of the process of figuring out what works best for the state.
“Some towns are resistant and others are more welcoming,” he said. “Trying to find towns that are most comfortable with what’s happening is a good idea for dispensary owners.”
Owners of marijuana dispensers may find less disapproval if they open a dispensary on a nonprofit level, he said.
“Keeping it nonprofit means that people are not trying to make a quick buck off of the program,” Simon said. “A lot of people are more comfortable with that idea of dispensaries being nonprofit.”
Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said there are other regulations that are necessary for the change in medical marijuana policy to succeed.
“We have a high set of standards for medicine and the ways in which we treat people, but we have not applied [those standards] to marijuana,” Aghababian said. “This law is calling it a medicine without scientific data.”
Aghababian said if studies show marijuana to be at least as effective as other medicine and have minimal side effects, they would support medical marijuana.
Aghababian said medical marijuana should be included in the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring System, which would allow the government to watch for patients who may abuse the drug, and specify regulations of the physician-patient relationship with conditions under which a patient is eligible for medical marijuana.
The law states that eligible patients must be diagnosed with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or other conditions as determined by a qualifying physician.
“We aren’t against marijuana any more than we are against excessive use of alcohol or medicine that change your mood,” Aghababian said. “We have to protect the public interest.”