Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law

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Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law Overwhelmingly Approved by Voters

The full text of the Massachusetts medical marijuana law as passed by voters is available here: Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012.

On March 29, 2013 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued draft regulations that are an indication of how the final medical marijuana program will be run.  These regulations reflect a significant update in the program that was originally passed by the voters in November of 2012.  These updates effect patients, caregivers and dispensaries.

In the following section, some important aspects of the legislation law will be highlighted.  See the individual pages for the effect of the draft regulations on patientscaregivers and dispensaries.

The intent of the law is that there will be no criminal penalties under the laws of Massachusetts for patients, doctors, caregivers and dispensary operators for their participation in the medical marijuana program.

The definition of a debilitating medical condition has been an area of concern for the Department of Public Health, the public and the Massachusetts Medical Society.  This site has another blog post on that subject.  Important in this section is that the list is not exhaustive.  Nonetheless, on January 30, 2013 the DPH announced that they are holding meetings around the state to get citizen’s input into what ailments should qualify.  We will see how amending this provision with a specific set of ailments holds up under constitutional scrutiny.  A state agency can not amend the will of the voters, and by limiting the list of conditions, they may be doing just that.

The law requires that a treatment center, more commonly known as a dispensary be a not-for-profit entity under the laws of the commonwealth.  This does not mean that the dispensary can not be profitable, nor that it has to apply for 501(c)(3) status under federal law.  In Massachusetts a not-for-profit entity need not be a charitable organization.  It simply means that a not-for-profit can not issue capital stock.  They can do anything else a regular corporation can do, including make a profit and hold property.  The treatment center can possess, provide and process (make foods, tinctures etc.) for patients and caregivers.

Medical use of marijuana is defined in the law.  This portion of the law is what was written far better than the medical marijuana laws in some other states, including California.  It specifically allows the acquisition, distribution and processing of medical marijuana.

The law provides for personal caregivers to assist patients in obtaining and using medical marijuana.  The draft regulations have stated that unless in a medical facility a personal caregiver may not act as such for more than one patient at a time and may not be paid for their services as a personal caregiver.  This significant limitation on caregiving is a clear indication that the DPH wants patients to procure their medicine from treatment centers if at all possible.

The amount that any patient can possess is what is reasonable for their needs over a sixty day period.  The draft regulations have placed a 10 ounce limit on a 60 day supply unless a patient’s doctor documents that the patient needs in excess of that amount, and if done, that documented amount constitutes the patient’s 60 day supply.

The law defines what a written certification is.  A document signed by a Massachusetts physician stating that in that doctor’s opinion the benefits outweigh the health risks for the patient, and it needs to state what the debilitating condition is. Many doctors are hesitant to certify their patients for medical marijuana despite the fact that the law went into effect on January 1st, 2013.  This site offers a form for download for a doctor to use in certifying their patients for the medicinal use of marijuana.  The law also requires that the doctor-patient relationship be bona fide.  The “bona fide physician-patient relationship” is an attempt to stop the doctor mills that popped up in other states.  We will see how certifications from places like Cannamed in Framingham hold up under scrutiny, considering whether their relationship with the patients is bona fide.  At a minimum bona fide means that the doctor reviews a patient’s medical history and has a role in the ongoing care and treatment of the patient.  The Massachusetts Medical Society has weighed in on this issue.  See the blog post on this site regarding the Society’s thoughts on the issue of bona fide.  The draft regulations have incorporated many of the MMS’s suggestions on what constitutes a bona fide relationship.

Once treatment centers start opening up, patients may be forced to procure their cannabis from such dispensaries unless they apply for and qualify for a hardship registration.  The hardship will require a financial hardship or inability to reach a treatment center, either because none are close enough to the patient, or because the patient is disabled.

Until the DPH starts issuing cards patients can possess and cultivate with a physicians certification.  Patients will need to apply for a registration card by January 14, 2014.

A letter to the DPH designating a patient’s personal caregiver, with the certified mail return receipt and a copy of the patients certification shall constitute a card for the patient’s caregiver.  Caregivers: keep a copy of the patient’s certification form, the return receipt from the post office and the letter designating you as the patient’s caregiver with your cannabis in any form.  It might behoove you to post them on the wall of the area you may be cultivating.  Caregivers be aware of the new regulations, and when they go into effect your role will change.  Check the caregiver page for updates.

If you want to illegally sell marijuana, it would probably expose you to less risk not to participate in the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program.  The penalties increase significantly if you illegally sell marijuana under the guise of doing so in compliance with the medical marijuana program.

The DPH has issued a statement and a FAQ sheet and is calling for public meetings on medical marijuana.  See the Massachusetts Department of Public Health medical marijuana page here.

If you would like to discuss these laws and how you can become compliant with a Massachusetts medical marijuana compliance attorney, contact us.  We encourage you to post your comments or thoughts about Massachusetts medical marijuana law here or visit our medical marijuana law blog.

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