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MA Health Regulators Propose Changes to Expand State’s MMJ Program

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health submitted to the Public Health Council a collection of proposed changes meant to improve legal access to medicinal cannabis.

Massachusetts could soon amend the regulations of its medical marijuana program in an effort to increase patient numbers and reduce cannabis prices. Health regulators recently proposed multiple changes, including allowing nurse practitioners to certify patients for medicinal cannabis, rather than limiting that capability to physicians, and permitting dispensaries to post product prices online.

Voters in Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2012 by approving Ballot Question 3. Massachusetts’ news publication Mass Live reports that as of August 31, the state has nearly 30,000 active patients and 167 registered physicians participating in the program. There are seven medical dispensaries distributed throughout the state, and three more that have been given permission but have yet to open.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health believes that increasing the number of medical professionals that can recommend medical cannabis will help boost the patient numbers. Five other medical marijuana states — New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington — allow nurse practitioners to authorize medical marijuana for patients.

By allowing dispensaries to post prices online, health regulators claim, patients would be able to compare products, subsequently encouraging competition and causing prices to go down.

Medical Marijuana Research

“The pricing online part, remember that our goal in these regulations is to ensure that patients have safe access and we maintain quality for our patients and balance that with public safety,” said state public health commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “In that same way, for patients to be able to adequately understand what products are available where and at what cost, that was the intent behind that.”

Health regulators also proposed giving dispensaries greater flexibility in transferring products, giving them the opportunity to deliver products to patients in nursing homes, hospices and other facilities. Right now dispensaries are only allowed to make deliveries to patients’ homes.

“This will be helpful for these patients who feel they’ve been forgotten,” Nichole Snow, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, told the Boston Globe.

Another proposed change is to require warning labels on products regarding cannabis use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“Our goal is safety, transparency, and access for patients who need [medical marijuana]”, said Bharel. “This is an evolving process, both in Massachusetts and nationally.”

The department recently laid out these proposed changes to the Public Health Council, who is expected to vote on the proposal in the next few months after a public hearing during which the public can comment.

Deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health referred to the proposed changes as “common sense.”

The state’s medical marijuana program already went through a significant overhaul last year. The licensing process was changed so that dispensary applications were reviewed and vetted on a rolling basis.

Under the law, patients approved for medical marijuana by a physician can legally possess up to a “60 day supply” of cannabis. The conditions approved by the state include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)cancerCrohn’s diseaseglaucomaHIV/AIDShepatitis Cmultiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

This November, voters in Massachusetts will decide on an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults aged 21 and older.

Learn more about the cannabis laws in Massachusetts by visiting our education page.