The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, after looking through the newly announced Department of Public Health regulations on medical marijuana, sent the following letter to their members:

May 12, 2013
Dear Friend,

Regulations will go into effect May 24

Wednesday the Public Health Council voted to approve the regulations issued by the Department of Public health. There were many changes between draft regulations and the final version. You can read DPH’s Frequently Asked Questions about regulations here.

Thank you to the over 100 advocates and supporting organizations that worked with MPAA to present a unified message at the Listening Sessions, vet draft regulations, and respond to specific concerns through the final round of hearings a few weeks ago.

Thanks to your efforts, many of the provisions we supported in the draft regulations were not changed. Final regulations:
● Include language that leaves the determination of appropriate medical marijuana use to doctors and patients, rather than restricting it based on an arbitrary list of conditions.
● Set the dosage limit for patients is at 10 ounces over 60 days, but allows doctors to recommend higher dosages if necessary.
● Allow patients to visit doctors beyond their primary care when seeking a recommendation. Practices that include a focus on evaluating patients for possible medical marijuana recommendations are allowed – provided they do a full clinical check up, assess the patient’s full medical history, and have an ongoing role in his or her care.

Several improvements were made to draft regulations in response to the concerns voiced by MPAA and our members.

● Patients will no longer be required to designate a single dispensary. Instead they will be able to acquire medicine from any dispensary.
● The threshold for financial hardship still includes anyone on Masshealth or SSI, but the income level for others to qualify was raised from 133% of the Federal Poverty Line to 300%. This means a single person with an income of up to about $34,000 as opposed to just $15,300 a year will be eligible to apply for hardship cultivation. (Dispensaries are also required to offer subsidized or free medicine to patients with verifiable financial hardship.)
● Patients under 18 will be allowed to access medical marijuana even if they are not diagnosed as terminally ill, provided they get the approval of two doctors including a pediatrician, as well as a guardian.
● Language was added to clarify that if a condition is not presenting symptoms because it is being effectively treated by medical marijuana use patients remain eligible to receive a recommendation from a doctor.

You can read MPAA’s testimony about draft regulations, along with submissions from other stakeholders here.

Next steps:

Dispensaries are still on schedule to open by next year. The state will soon release information about how non-profits can apply for registrations to operate as dispensaries. No deadlines have yet been set.

While final regulations take into account a number of issues we organized around, we still have concerns about if implementation will ultimately allow safe access to all patients in need. This is a new law including some provisions never before seen in other states, so we will be working with patients and supporters to determine what issues come up as implementation proceeds, and how they can be addressed.

In the mean time, MPAA will continue to fight efforts in the legislature to roll back the initiative as we did last Monday May 6, where we assembled two panels of patients to oppose Senate Bill 1031 and other proposals heard by the Joint Committee on Public Health. Thanks to all of you who called or e-mailed your legislators to go on the record in opposition of 1031! Moving forward, we will also be working with advocates and governments at the local level to provide support as dispensaries are licensed and begin to open.

New regulations go into effect on May 24.

MPAA will be sifting through the regulations over the next several days and will post a new set of FAQs on our website.

Stay posted for news on the next MPAA meetings, and as always thank you for your support.

Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance