Massachusetts medical marijuana: Pot shops on hold as health officials work on regulations

Boston prepares for medical marijuana dispensaries.
David McNew/Getty Images

Medical marijuana has been legal since Tuesday, but those planning to light up have to wait until the Department of Public Health figures out how to regulate it.

That could take up to four months, so until then, questions remain on how and where it will be dispensed.

Boston City Councilor Robert Consalvo is pushing to get zoning in place as soon as possible.

“Whatever the number (of dispensaries), we need to make sure it is done right,” he said, adding that he hopes city officials will have a draft in place by the end of February.

Consalvo estimates the city could get up to four dispensaries. During a hearing last month, advocates offered opinions on where dispensaries should go. Some called for proximity to public transportation, and others suggested the shops be located close to medical centers.

Consalvo said he hopes to hold another hearing in coming months: “The folks who weighed in had a lot of helpful solutions.”

Dr. Bruce Bedrick, the CEO of MedBox Inc., who opened an office in Natick shortly after the ballot question was approved, called his company’s fingerprint-controlled dispensing systems, similar to vending machines, a safe way to store and dispense the drug.

“If a patient has violated the legal amount they are allowed to have in 60-day time frame, or if their fingerprint doesn’t match, it won’t dispense,” Bedrick said.

The machines include display cases that show the raw medicine and infused products, he said. Staff would be in control of removing the drugs, weighing them, and handing them over to patients.

It is too soon to know if the health department will require the machines, but while officials work out the kinks, some Massachusetts towns are working to keep out dispensaries.

For now, it doesn’t look like Boston has any objections.

“Voters have spoken, and we’ve heard them loud and clear,” said Consalvo. “In Boston we’re not looking to block the sale as other towns have. We understand that now it is legal and we want to make it accessible for (patients.)”

What now?

The Department of Public Health has until May 1 to put regulations in place that reflect public input.

Until that happens, marijuana dispensaries can’t open, and the health department can’t give out registration cards.

But patients can get a doctor’s written recommendation to act as a medical marijuana registration card, and the law also lets patients cultivate their own limited supply of marijuana while regulations are being worked out.

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