The state Department of Health last week issued a responsible set of proposed guidelines for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. While the guidelines may be tweaked in the weeks ahead before a final decision is made on them in May, county communities should now follow Pittsfield's lead and prepare for the eventuality of a clinic coming to town.
In establishing the illnesses and conditions that would qualify patients for medical marijuana, the DPH gave doctors wide latitude in determining who should be given a prescription for the drug. With this responsibility must come education, and the department's requirement that physicians undergo training before being authorized to prescribe marijuana is reasonable. It isn't clear why the DPH stipulated that patients be allowed no more than 10 ounces for a 60-day period when the state of Washington, which has run a well-regarded program for more than a decade, allows patients to receive as many as 24 ounces within that period to assure that those with debilitating conditions are receiving the assistance they need.
The regulations wisely discourage home cultivation of marijuana and, unlike other states, allow clinics to cultivate their own marijuana within the state. This should lower the cost for users of medical marijuana and may open the door for a small cottage industry in Massachusetts -- perhaps in the Berkshires?
Massachusetts voters have liberalized marijuana regulations in each of the last two state elections by referendum vote, but marijuana, like alcohol, can be abused if used irresponsibly. The DPH recommends safeguards to keep medical marijuana from being sold and/or used by young people, but the safeguards are only as good as their enforcement.
In overturning bans on the clinic, as expected, Attorney General Martha Coakley unexpectedly allowed communities to impose moratoriums on the establishment of the clinics, and Sheffield and Egremont are proposing moratoriums to town voters. There is no point in postponing what needs doing. City Hall has drafted a set of dispensary regulations that are now before the Pittsfield Community Development Board for review, and other towns may as well get to work on their own.