Massachusetts unveils medical marijuana dispensary guidelines
Recipients of medical marijuana in Massachusetts would be allowed up to 10 ounces of pot for 60 days under proposed rules issued Friday by state health officials.
All marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts must cultivate their own supply of the drug under the draft recommendations. They would establish guidelines for doctors and personal caregivers, require periodic laboratory testing of marijuana supplies, and impose safeguards designed to keep the drug from being misused or falling into the hands of youth.
Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question in November allowing medicinal marijuana for patients with certain conditions, including cancer, Parkinson's disease and AIDS. State health officials chose not to add to the current list of specific conditions in their recommendations, saying they would leave those decisions to doctors and patients.
The new law took effect on Jan. 1, but the Department of Public Health Department was given 120 days to draw up rules for implementing medical marijuana. The recommendations issued on Friday must still be approved by the state Public Health Council following public hearings scheduled for April 19.
Several public health officials in Berkshire County on Friday declined to comment extensively on the new rules because they had not reviewed the regulations.
However, towns and cities are proactively anticipating the possible arrival of clinics. Moratoriums on medical marijuana clinics have been proposed for town vote in Sheffield and Egremont.
Pittsfield has a draft proposal to regulate dispensaries within the city before the Community Development Board for review.
State officials said they consulted a variety of experts and reviewed medical marijuana laws in 17 other states while preparing the proposed rules.
"DPH solicited an unprecedented level of input in drafting these regulations to create a medical marijuana system that is right for Massachusetts," the agency's interim commissioner, Dr. Lauren Smith, said in a statement.
"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," Smith said.
The new law allows for as many as 35 nonprofit dispensaries to open around the state where patients can receive up to a 60-day supply of marijuana.
While health officials recommended that the supply be limited to no more than 10 ounces, they also said doctors would in "limited circumstances" have the authority to increase the supply.
The requirement that each dispensary operates its own cultivation facility "allows for uniform seed-to-sale control and maximum security," the agency said. No wholesale distribution of marijuana products would be allowed.
In a small number of "hardship" cases, individual patients would be allowed to cultivate marijuana at their own homes.
The voter-approved law does not require patients to get prescriptions but only written recommendations from doctors for medical marijuana.
State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Boston, the House chairman of the Legislature's public health committee, said the draft rules were only a midpoint in what will be a lengthy regulatory process.
"There is still time for citizens to weigh in on this proposal and I encourage them to do so ... through the public hearings or through written comment," Sanchez said.
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