The clock is ticking for health officials in Massachusetts to write regulations for medical marijuana. More than 50 people spoke at a public hearing in Holyoke on Wednesday.
People with diseases and disabilities spoke passionately about the use of medical marijuana and called for rules addressing the proper type, dosage and availability of the medicine. Charles Papsadori has multiple sclerosis and says medical marijuana relieves the muscle spasms in his legs, but does not leave him groggy the way painkillers do.
Papsadori also believes MS patients should be granted hardship exemptions to allow them to cultivate their own marijuana rather than travel to a dispensary.
Voters last fall passed a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana. The law gives the Massachusetts Department of Public Health until May 1st to issue regulations to implement the law. The department sought public comment at three listening sessions across the state this month. The final one was held Wednesday at Holyoke Community College.
Among the issues to be decided by the regulators is which debilitating medical conditions marijuana use will be authorized for. At the public hearings, there have been calls for its use by cancer patients, people with nerve damage, Parkinson’s disease and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Karen Munkaci, a physician and breast cancer survivor believes there should be no difference between prescribing marijuana and any other controlled substance.
The health department has to define the quantity of marijuana that makes up a 60 day supply, which is the limit for patients under the state law. It must decide if, and how marijuana is used in food for medical purposes, and establish security requirements for the medical marijuana treatment centers.
Michael Cutler is a lawyer who says he represents a number of clients interested in setting up marijuana dispensaries.
The law authorized up to 35 non-profit marijuana treatment centers across the state, with at least one in each county.
The state’s interim public health commissioner, Lauren Smith, says the department has a lot of information to absorb and a short time to write regulations by May 1st.
The health department is studying regulations already in place in the 17 other states that have legalized medical marijuana. All of the New England states, except New Hampshire, which is currently debating the matter, have approved the use of medical marijuana.