medical marijuana

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House Moderates Stance On Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

The Massachusetts House has backed away from a call for the state to start over in its review of medical marijuana dispensary applications. But House leaders are recommending that the Department of Public Health (DPH) stop and make some changes before continuing what they say is a flawed process.

In a letter released Thursday, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, listed three recommendations:

1) Go back and verify all the information submitted by every applicant who scored 137 or more points. This would add eight groups to the list of 20 that were cleared for provisional status.

2) In the future, verify information submitted before selecting applicants for provisional licenses.

3) Close loopholes that might let “non eligible persons” maintain an interest in a dispensary.

“We want to make sure that we are responsible to this voter-approved law that was passed and that we’re able to identify any problems relative to who these folks are,” Sanchez said.

Before Sanchez sent the letter, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that he doesn’t understand why DPH checked some information, but not all the paperwork, before narrowing the list of applicants.

“My problem,” DeLeo said, “is I would have preferred that you [DPH] do all vetting upfront before any decisions are made.”

DPH issued a statement saying it will continue to work with the Legislature and will consider the recommendations in an effort “to ensure a thorough and transparent licensing process.”

But the department and the House are overlooking the main objection raised by those who were not selected: the way applications were scored.

“Much more needs to be done to a process that’s revealing itself to be flawed and inadequate in every respect,” said Joshua Resnek, spokesman for the Centers for Alternative Medicine, whose application to open a dispensary in East Boston was rejected.

Resnek and his group have asked DPH to recalculate their score. Several other groups who were rejected have filed suit against the state.

While some applicants are fighting to overturn the application process, others with provisional approval have millions invested in leases, planned renovations and growing facilities where they anticipated planting marijuana next month.

With all this wrangling, patients are left wondering if they will, as the state has said, be able to purchase marijuana at a legal dispensary sometime this summer.

Mass. Approves 20 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Dispensary locations across Massachusetts (Mass. DPH)

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Dispensary locations across Massachusetts (Mass. DPH)

A small grocery store and a former warehouse are among the buildings that may soon be redesigned to open for a very different purpose: selling marijuana to qualifying patients.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Friday approved 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses in 19 communities.

Voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 2012. The law said the state could OK up to 35 dispensaries, with at least one, but not more than five, in each county.

Boston, in Suffolk County, has two licenses. Four licenses were awarded in Middlesex County, with two licenses each in Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester counties. Hampden and Hampshire counties each got one license.

The dispensaries are in the following cities and towns: Ayer, Boston (2), Brockton, Brookline, Cambridge, Dennis, Fairhaven, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lowell, Mashpee, Milford, Newton, Northampton, Plymouth, Quincy, Salem, Taunton and Worcester.

Four counties do not yet have a dispensary. Six qualifying dispensary applicants were invited to seek an alternate location, in order to serve the remaining counties. State officials said they may issue additional licenses in June.

Owners who were notified they cleared state approval will now have to begin the local approval process, which includes zoning, inspection and public health rules in some communities.
Continue reading

National Survey Suggests Medical Pot Trickles Down To Teens

In this Oct. 16 file photo, Monique Rydberg, left, packages medical marijuana as Jeff Clark awaits patients at The Joint, a medical marijuana cooperative in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP, File)

In this Oct. 16 file photo, Monique Rydberg, left, packages medical marijuana as Jeff Clark awaits patients at The Joint, a medical marijuana cooperative in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP, File)

The federal government today released Monitoring The Future, its annual reams of data on teen vices — alcohol, drugs, tobacco — and here’s perhaps the freshest new data point on the press release:

In 2012, the survey added questions about where students get marijuana. Looking at the last two years combined, 34 percent of marijuana-using 12th-graders living in states with medical marijuana laws say that one of the ways they obtain the drug is through someone else’s medical marijuana prescription. In addition, more than 6 percent say they get it with their own prescription.

Hmmm. So if students in medical-marijuana states (like Massachusetts, soon) are getting their pot from friends with medical marijuana cards, does that mean they’re smoking more of it in general? Does legalizing medical pot lead to more stoners? Or just a shift in supply?

I put that question to R. Gil Kerlikowske, former police chief of Seattle and now director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — better known as the country’s drug czar.

“What we saw in the survey instruments, and across the country, is that the states that have medicalized marijuana have higher youth use than the states that have not done that, so that is very clear,” he said.

‘In Mass., if somebody uses the medical marijuana system for distribution, they’re looking at a felony.’

But of course, it could be that those states that are already more lax on marijuana, and have more users, are more likely to pass medical marijuana laws. I asked Kerlikowske, whose office opposes pot legalization: Is there any sign that legalizing medical marijuana causes more teen pot use?

“You know, I wouldn’t want to go that far,” he said, “because we’re not saying this is causal effect but the correlation is clear: that youth use is higher in the states that have medical marijuana. And then when you add in the information about where do you obtain it, and you obtain it from a person who does have a medical marijuana card, in my old job as a police chief, I’d call that a clue.”

Another clue: weed is not looking very killer-like to high-schoolers: 60 percent of seniors say they don’t see regular pot use as harmful.

But again, is there any causation? Are teens less negative about pot because it’s now described as medicine?

I spoke with Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, which advocated for the medical marijuana law that passed here last year and continues to work on how it plays out. He says the federal study looks at general trends for the nation, but several state-by-state studies have found that there is no causal correlation — that passing a medical marijuana law doesn’t boost teen pot use.

He also points out that there are ways to put strict laws in place to prevent diversion of medical marijuana to teens. Continue reading

Mass. Hospitals Weigh Medical Marijuana Liability Risk

As Massachusetts lays the groundwork for medical marijuana, new clashes between the state law and a continuing federal ban on marijuana use are emerging. Hospitals, hospice care organizations and nursing homes are weighing the balance of serving their patients and protecting billions of dollars in federal funding.

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

Here’s the dilemma: Towards the end of long forms that authorize federal payments to hospitals, an executive has to certify that yes, the hospital is in compliance with federal law. But that statement would not be true if patients at the hospital are using marijuana for medical purposes and a doctor at that hospital is helping them.

“It’s really challenging for the practitioners,” says Larry Vernaglia, an attorney at Foley & Lardner who wrote a memo laying out the issues for the Massachusetts Hospital Association. If doctors say to themselves “‘even though we have this new pathway under state law, we’re not going to help our patients for fear of our liability,’ I think that’s a terrible position to be in,” Vernaglia says.

And hospitals face significant possible risks. Tim Gens, executive vice president at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, says violating federal law could get hospitals in trouble with the IRS over their nonprofit status. Grants through the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense fund most of the research at Boston hospitals. And there’s the billions of dollars in payments hospitals receive through Medicare and Medicaid. Continue reading

Let Them Sell Pot: 181 Applicants For Mass. Medical Marijuana Shops

The latest tally: 181 individuals or groups have applied to the state department of public health to establish medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. The state will ultimately grant 35 licenses, reports WBUR’s Lynn Jolicoeur:

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)


DPH will announce next month which applicants can move on to the final phase of the application. That process will be much more rigorous and will include identifying a community where the planned dispensary location fits in with local zoning rules.

DPH Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett acknowledged that it might be difficult to open a dispensary in a town or city that has instituted a one-year moratorium. The moratoriums are allowed by law for communities to finalize zoning restrictions for dispensaries. But DPH plans to approve up to 35 dispensaries by January and wants to see them open within four to six months of then.

Jolicoeur talked to one applicant who said he wants to debunk some of the stoner stereotypes with his pot shop: Continue reading

Medical Marijuana For Kids? Really?

Here’s the provocative lede of an NBC News report earlier this week:

Zaki Jackson was 6 months old when doctors diagnosed him with a form of epilepsy so severe that it sparked as many as 250 seizures a day.

For years his mom, Heather Jackson, feared for his life. “He would stop breathing,” she told NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman. “All the air leaves his lungs and he does not take another breath until that seizure is over.”

After 10 years and 17 medications, Zaki wasn’t getting any better. Then, finally, his doctor wrote a prescription for a medication that calmed the electrical storms in Zaki’s brain. The surprise was that it wasn’t for a standard anti-seizure medication — it was a prescription for marijuana.

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

Wow, I thought, I’ve never heard of any doctors prescribing medical marijuana for kids. I called around, and none of the pediatricians I contacted knew of any specific cases.

It’s clearly not the norm, though it’s permitted under state regulations approved by the Mass. Department of Health. According to an earlier post here:

…youth under 18 will have access to the use of medical marijuana, but will need two physicians to certify that the risks and benefits have been assessed and the benefits will outweigh the risks, one being a board-certified pediatrician.

But when the state was finalizing the rules earlier this year, the Massachusetts Medical Society raised concerns about use by children in a May 8 statement:

We are concerned that the Department has changed the regulations related to children, by allowing the override of the “life-limiting” provision and by changing the definition of “life-limiting illness” from six months to two years. In the absence of well-designed scientific research data, we are concerned about extending the time from six months to two years. The scientific evidence is clear that marijuana use by children is dangerous, as studies have found toxic effects on the still-developing brains of young people.

Here, Dr. Sharon Levy, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, offers her perspective Continue reading

No ‘Pot Doctors,’ Neon, Candy: Mass. Medical Pot Rules Take Shape

medical marijuana sign

(Photo: Laurie Avocado via Wikimedia Commons)

See that enticing medical marijuana sign above? Well, you won’t be seeing anything like it in Massachusetts.

As rules and guidelines and processes are developed to translate last year’s successful medical marijuana ballot measure into practice, the shape of the state’s coming “MM” order is beginning to emerge. State officials say it is a “Goldilocks” plan — (as in, just right) — balancing patients’ needs with concerns about abuse.

And that means learning from the 17 other states that have already legalized medical marijuana, they say. So, for example: The rules will emphasize that to prescribe marijuana, a doctor must be involved in a patient’s continuing care, thus avoiding the pot equivalent of “pill mills.” Signs will need to be low-key, not neon. Edible marijuana will be allowed, but cannot be marketed in candy-like forms alluring to children.

Those are a few of my takeaways from speaking to interim commissioner Cheryl Bartlett of the Department of Public Health. Our conversation is below, lightly edited, and for further details, the state has a medical marijuana FAQ here and more information here. To learn more, tune in to Radio Boston today at about 3 p.m. for a live interview with John Polanowicz, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services — and if you have a particular question, the show will be taking call-ins at 800-423-8255.

So where are we at with medical marijuana?

The latest thing that happened is on Friday, we held a public hearing at the Department of Public health on fees. The ballot initiative requires that we develop a program of oversight, and that it be revenue-neutral to the state. So it authorized us to develop fees to cover the costs of this program. We took input and comments on that, and we’ll formulate the comments and get them up to Administration and Finance, which has the authority to establish fees.

When are they expected?  Continue reading

Mass. Physicians Raise Concerns About Final Medical Marijuana Rules

WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports that while some Massachusetts physicians are already signing marijuana certificates, others are worried about violating federal drug laws:

Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society says doctors want more research on how much marijuana to prescribe, and what kind, for which diseases.

“There’s not a lot in progress that I’m aware of. Before we treat it like any other medicine like an antibiotic or cardiac antiarrythmia, we’ve got to have some data,” Aghababian said.

The new state law says doctors can certify up to 10 oz. every 60 days for patients with serious medical conditions.

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

(“Caveman Chuck” Coker/flickr)

Yesterday, the state Public Health Council approved final rules for the use of medical marijuana. The AP reports:

The law also allows the state to license up to 35 dispensaries to provide marijuana for patients who have been certified by their physicians…

The 52 pages of regulations that were approved unanimously by the state Public Health Council will allow patients approved for medical marijuana to receive up to 10 ounces as a 60-day supply, though some acutely ill patients could receive more with permission from their doctors.

In addition to the medical conditions specified in the law, officials agreed to let doctors use discretion in recommending medical marijuana for other, unspecified conditions that are considered “debilitating” in nature. Continue reading

10 Ounces = 60-Day Supply, And Other Rules For Medical Pot In Mass.

medical marijuana sign

(Photo: Laurie Avocado via Wikimedia Commons)

“Medical marijuana” became legal in Massachusetts on January 1, but the first draft of rules for its use are just out today.

Here are some highlights from the Department of Public Health. The full summary is here:

• Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs): DPH requires each non-profit MMTC organization to operate their own cultivation and dispensing facilities.

• Defining a 60-Day Supply: DPH recommends allowing up to 10 ounces for a personal 60-day supply.

• Debilitating Medical Condition: DPH does not further define which medical conditions qualify patients for medicinal use of marijuana, instead leaving that important decision to physicians and their patients.

Many critics of the law had urged DPH to narrow the definition of “debilitating” conditions for which patients could use marijuana. But DPH interim Commissioner, Dr. Lauren Smith, says creating a list of conditions would surely leave something out. She says she’s confident that the focus will be on “those patients who have serious or significant conditions and not on people who are looking for a way to obtain marijuana purely for recreational use.”

“So far so good, I’m very pleased with the progress they’ve made,” says Eric McCoy of Boston who uses marijuana daily to relieve cramps and other symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. Some patients are objecting to the state’s proposed limit of 10 oz. every 60 days, but McCoy says he uses less than that. Continue reading

Mass. AG To Towns: Medical Pot Whether You Want It Or Not

medical marijuana sign

(Photo: Laurie Avocado via Wikimedia Commons)

WBUR’s Lynn Jolicoeur reports:

BOSTON — The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has issued a decision that towns and cities cannot enact total bans on medical marijuana dispensaries within their borders.

The decision, released in response to a Wakefield bylaw banning dispensaries in the town, says such a ban would “frustrate the purpose” of the medical marijuana law voters passed through Question 3 on the November 2012 ballot.

The decision, written by Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley, director of the Municipal Law Unit, says the law’s legislative purpose “could not be served if a municipality could prohibit treatment centers within its borders, for if one municipality could do so, presumably all could do so.”

Municipalities are, however, allowed to adopt zoning bylaws to regulate dispensaries, according to Hurley.

In a separate decision in response to a bylaw passed by the town of Burlington, Hurley said towns can adopt temporary moratoriums on dispensaries.

See the full WBUR post here.