Officials from the Mass. Department of Public Health will be in Western Mass. next week to hear from local people about the state’s new medical marijuana law.
The Feb. 27 informal hearing, scheduled for 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Business Center, is one of three “listening sessions” held by DPH as it drafts regulations for the state’s new medical marijuana system.
Massachusetts voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana in November by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent. While the new law went into effect on Jan. 1, DPH has until May 1 to draw up its regulations.
The three sessions—including ones held last week in Worcester and Boston—are opportunities for the public to weigh in on those regulations. In particular, DPH says it’s looking for public input on what medical conditions would make a patient eligible for medical marijuana, training for prescribing physicians, security measures and monitoring of medical marijuana dispensaries, regulation of food products containing marijuana, and standards for allowing patients who demonstrate a hardship to grow their own marijuana. DPH says its aim is to “put in place a system that is right for Massachusetts, ensuring both appropriate access and safe and secure communities for our children and families.”
The state is also accepting written comments through Feb. 28. They can be sent by email to MedicalMarijuana@state.ma.us or by letter to the Department of Public Health, Attn: Medical Marijuana Listening Sessions, 250 Washington St., 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02108.
The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that speakers at the Worcester session included city officials who expressed concern about the potential negative effects a dispensary could have on the community, as well as the city’s health commissioner, who said there are no dosing standards for marijuana and no sufficient evidence that it’s medically effective. That’s also the position of the Mass. Medical Society, which opposed last year’s medical marijuana ballot question and has called on the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to reclassify marijuana to allow more scientific study of its medical efficacy.
Northampton attorney Dick Evans, a long-time advocate for marijuana law reform, attended the Feb. 13 Worcester session. In written comments he shared with the Advocate, Evans reported that about 250 people attended, along with several DPH staffers “with dutifully blank faces.”
Evans wrote that the “overwhelming majority” of people in attendance “urged the DPH to adopt regulations to carry out the will of the voters in a timely fashion so that this medicine will be available to qualifying patients without delay. … Speaker after speaker told heart-rending stories of weaning themselves off prescription narcotics, the side effects of which were devastating to their health, when they ‘finally’ turned to medical marijuana.”
Attendees who spoke out against medical marijuana included “the usual suspects, zealous defenders of prohibition and familiar opponents of reform,” said Evans, who left the session confident that medical marijuana “enjoys solid public support.”
Matt Allen, executive director of the pro-medical marijuana Mass. Patient Advocacy Alliance, said the listening sessions show that DPH “is moving forward with crafting thoughtful and effective regulations.” His group, he told the Advocate, is “working to bring forward patients, their family members, medical professionals and public health groups to ensure they have a voice in the process, and that the final regulations meet the needs of patients suffering with serious health conditions.”