Attorneys and advocacy groups raised comments on dispensary rules

While noting that the majority of the regulations drafted by the DPH are well-thought out, several attorneys and coalitions of entrepreneurs said some regulations related to dispensaries are too restrictive and need to be reconsidered.

In a public hearing at the DPH office held April 22, a Massachusetts-based attorney Douglas Noble addressed two issues related to marijuana dispensary. First, the requirement that a dispensary must be operational within 120 days after its application approved by the DPH.

Noble said, “A hundred and twenty days may be a very unrealistic time frame to become operational with all of the uncertainties which exist with zoning issues, and being the first to open marijuana treatment centers in Massachusetts. But this may become less an issue for future developments.” He  proposed change to allow staff to extend the time frame, so long as the applicant is making substantial continuing progress to completion.

His second concern was related to a requirement that, when applying for a certificate of dispensary, every applicant must put at least $500,000 in an escrow account, which is to ensure that applicants have enough resources to operate. He recommended that upon the approval of an applicant, the escrow money should be released for the purpose of becoming fully operational.

Noble’s suggestion to extend the time frame was also voiced by Kris Krane, managing partner of 4Front Advisors, an Arizona-based consulting firm that provides marijuana dispensaries support in business operations and legal issues.

Krane said, “It will undoubtedly lead to certificate winners being forced to forfeit their permit.  Construction and build out of large-scale cultivation facilities can take a few months, and that doesn’t account for the time needed to pull building permits from local jurisdictions, a process that can take months in and of itself.” As a solution, he suggested the DPH to consider either extending this period to at least six months or building in a mechanism for operators to apply for extensions based on reasonable delays in permitting or construction.

As a representative of an organization whose clients are marijuana dispensaries and business entities throughout the country, Krane also asked the DPH to allow marijuana dispensaries to wholesale amongst themselves, which is similar to the Arizona marijuana program. “Wholesaling or trading amongst them will ensure that dispensaries have a more varied and robust product line for patients. If a dispensary in western Massachusetts is growing an effective strain (high CBD for example), they should be able to make it available to patients in more high-density places like the Boston area by wholesaling or trading with dispensaries in Boston,” he said.

The draft regulation allows a registered qualifying patient to change his or her designated treatment center only once every 120-day period.  Most representatives from the various groups attending the public hearing proposed to change this. One of them was by Tamar Todd, a staff attorney of the Drug Policy Alliance, a California-based advocate group for new drug policies.

Todd said experience in other medical marijuana states shows that producers and dispensaries may experience difficulty consistently providing enough marijuana to the patients in the amount they need. “If a treatment center runs out of marijuana or experiences crop failure or disease, patients registered with that dispensary will be forced to wait up to 120 days before being able to obtain marijuana from another dispensary. This regulation should be revised to allow patients to change their designation before 120 days, or else to allow a patient to designate multiple dispensaries at one time,” he said.

Another issue was raised by Michael Kann, an analytical chemist and pharmaceutical scientist, who argued the current draft is lack of clarity in quality control standards. He said the draft requires only cannabinoid profile testing, which would list ingredients without specific quantities of active cannabinoids. “Marijuana patients should have access to the specific information of the active ingredients. We use this information to make informed choices, just like we know Excedrin displays the number of milligrams of caffeine, ibuprofen, and aspirin found in a pill,” he said.

He admitted the testing is costly and complicated, and argued that reliance on self-regulation can lead to poor quality and compromised safety, as recently seen in the compounding pharmacy, oil industries and a dispensary in Maine that used pesticides in their growing facility.

“A reasonable solution is to specify in the bill a pathway for the creation of certified third-party laboratories that will provide proper cost-effective testing for multiple dispensaries,” he suggested. He said this mechanism will promote a conscientious and transparent medical treatment.

After this hearing, a small team in the DPH works on the draft again. Then, the team will present its new draft to the DPH council on May 8, and if the regulations be adopted by the council that day, they will go into effect by May 24.

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