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Changes on the new Mass. marijuana law?

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg is likely the most quoted state legislator on the medical marijuana issue. As one of the proponents of the Massachusetts medical marijuana initiative, the democratic senator said he believed that the new medical marijuana law is too loose in two aspects, and he’s trying to fix them.

First is the cultivation right granted to some patients, like disabled people, who don’t have access to a dispensary, which cultivates, processes and sells medical marijuana. “I think there’s no need for this, it opens the possibility of access to some marijuana for recreational use, which is not the purpose of the new law,” Rosenberg said.

His second concern is who will have the authority to decide the conditions which would qualify a person for access to the medical plant. According to the new law passed on Nov. 6, the individual doctors have this authority. But Rosenberg disagred with that. “I think the Department of Public Health should have the authority to make the determination, not individual doctors as to what conditions would be appropriate for access,” he said.

Under the ballot question, the  Department of Public Health is responsible for regulating medical marijuana in Massachusetts. “I’m waiting for the new Commissioner at the Department of Public Health to be named before following up,” he said.

Meredith Rosenthal, a member of the state public health council and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, “The DPH will make a thorough study of the issue, look to other states as models, and receive input from interested parties before presenting a proposal to the Public Health Council. We have much to learn before we can decide the best path for regulation.”

They have 120 days to issue the specific regulations after the effective date of this law on Jan. 1, 2013.

In this study and talk between the Legislature, state officials and interested parties, there could be arguments from the organizations and people who are in favor and against the law. But they will not go back to discuss, for example, whether marijuana is useful or not, but in how the state regulates the medical use of the plant.

The spokeswoman of two organizations that are opposed to each other agree with Rosenberg. Jennifer Manley of the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, a leader of the coalition supporting the measure, said she is ready to work with him. Heidi Heilman of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance that opposed the measure said, “I agree with him. The law needs specific conditions for the qualifying patients, and only under those conditions, there’s no ‘other conditions.’”

In the meantime, Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo is asking the City Council to order a hearing to address the location of medical marijuana dispensaries. In this hearing, the City Council will discuss specific rules regarding the dispensaries and their locations in the city’s neighborhoods with government bodies such as the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the state Department of Public Health, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Police Department and the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Regarding the dispensaries and other issues, Mass. medical marijuana law is tighter than its counterpart in Colorado and California, two states that have the most marijuana dispensaries in the country.

State Comparison

Regulations Massachusetts Colorado California
Patient has a bona fide physician-patient relationship Required Required Not Required
Statewide patient registry system Required Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Oversight, registration and collection of fees Required Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Registration and background check for employees Required Not Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Jail and prison sentences for defrauding system Applied Not Applied Not Applied
Dispensaries: Maximum numbers in the state 35 No Limit (500 in Denver alone) No Limit (1,000 in LA alone)
Dispensaries: Maximum numbers per county 5 No Limit No Limit

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