Medical Marijuana Patients Find Options Lacking

On November 6, 2012, thousands of Massachusetts voters passed Question 3, which made the Bay State the eighteenth in the nation to legalize medical marijuana and implement 35 non-profit dispensaries to provide for the drug to patients with a prescription. In addition, a hardship clause was allowed for cultivation by caregivers or patients if no dispensaries opened 120 days after the implementation of the law.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since the law was implemented, 640 days have passed without the opening of a single medical marijuana dispensary. And while Karen van Unen, executive director of the state’s medical marijuana program, stated at a press conference that the first dispensaries could open in November, the majority of those approved may not open until February 2015. And while the law calls specifically for at least one dispensary in each county in the state, the state has only approved 11 with the most glaring absence being the city of Boston.

In addition to the lack of dispensaries, Massachusetts residents are not taking advantage of the hardship clause that allows them to grow their own marijuana. This is due to the wording of a clause that states that if no dispensaries have been opened 120 days past the January 1st, 2013 implementation date, patients or caregivers could submit an application to grow enough medication for only one patient.

According to Section 11 of the law, "Such registration shall allow the patient or the patient’s personal caregiver to cultivate a limited number of plants, sufficient to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana, and shall require cultivation and storage only in an enclosed, locked facility." This one person limit makes it difficult for caregivers grow enough marijuana while remaining economically viable. For example, California, Maine and Rhode Island allow for caregivers to provide for up to five patients, which allows growers to make some return on their investment

And the initial investment required to produce marijuana can be large, ranging from government licenses to expensive facilities and technology for quality control. This makes it a risky investment with a maximum market of one patient per grower, and provides little to no incentive for new growers to take on the demand of the market.

And while the Department of Public Health had previously been turning a blind eye to the 17-plus caregivers providing for the 1300+ patients in the Bay State with legitimate need, this past June, the state sent letters to each of these violators of the law explaining that "the caregiver you specified has been designated by more than one qualifying patient. Pursuant to DPH Regulations, an individual may not serve as a personal caregiver for more than one registered qualifying(sic) patient at one time," requesting that they either find a new caregiver or go without medication until dispensaries are operational in a few months.

This lack of a process for these patients to get their medicine, either through a dispensary or a caregiver, is causing legitimate hardship in people's lives.

Troy Sweder of Methuen, a veteran who is prescribed medical marijuana for neuropathic pain from his service injuries, told the Boston Globe that “as a Massachusetts resident, I am just very disappointed. The state wouldn’t have to do much. There are people out there who could be caregivers until the dispensaries open."

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