Six months after voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for medical use, the state's Public Health Council voted unanimously Wednesday morning to approve of the proposed regulations governing the drug.
While the vote moves the issue forward, but it will still be months before the state's first registered marijuana dispensary opens its doors.
Now that the regulations are basically in place (they will go into effect May 24 after being sent to Secretary of State William Galvin's office) the department will begin working on the competitive application process for businesses that want to open the non profit dispensaries. Businesses will have to pay a fee, meet certain conditions and will go through a merit-based approval process with "explicit criteria" that will rank the best applicants.
The application process wasn't expected to begin until the summer and continue into the fall. It will include more public hearings on things like fees the dispensaries will have to pay before the process is complete.
"It doesn't mean this will be up and operational in July," said Cheryl Bartlett, the interim deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Health and a member of the medical marijuana regulation working group.
The regulations include a cap of 10 ounces of marijuana on a 60-day supply and a requirement that doctors that prescribe the drug for debilitating conditions such as cancer, HIV, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. However, the regulations also allow for patients suffering from other debilitating conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient's physician.
Health officials said that during the course of forming the regulations they had hundreds of oral and written comments and held dozens of hearings. Some of the regulations were changed based on the public's comments and concerns. One of those changes expanded the access to medical marijuana for youths suffering from debilitating conditions and who have two years to live. The draft regulation was written for youths with six months to live.
Council member Harold Cox questioned a provision in the regulations that require physicians to report patients symptoms and conditions to the state department. He said the council should always question why a patients information is needed to be handed over by their doctor.
"Looking at where the pitfalls have been in other states ... we believe it's important for us to do this in a responsible manner and that we have a very good understanding about how and why these [patient] certifications are being done," said Lauren Smith, the interim DPH commissioner.
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