BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) – Massachusetts public health officials approved final regulations Wednesday for the use of medical marijuana, paving the way for the voter-approved law to take effect.
Still, it will likely be at least several more months before the first medical marijuana dispensaries open in the state.
In November, Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize marijuana for medical conditions, including cancer, Parkinson's disease and HIV. The regulations would also allow doctors to recommend marijuana for other "debilitating" conditions that are not specified in the rules.
The regulations that were approved unanimously by the state Public Health Council will allow patients approved for medical marijuana to receive up to 10 ounces as a 60-day supply, though some acutely ill patients could receive more with permission from their doctors.
The Department of Public Health plans to license up to 35 dispensaries around the state.
Before approving the final regulations, the council changed the official title of the dispensaries from medical marijuana treatment centers to "registered marijuana dispensaries." The change, while largely symbolic, reflected the view of some doctors on the panel that marijuana has never officially been proven to be a medical treatment.
The ballot question provided the framework for the program and required state health officials to draw up detailed regulations. Officials said Wednesday the regulations were based on feedback from hundreds of patients and others, as well as lessons learned from medical marijuana programs in other states around the country.
In addition to the medical conditions specified in the law, officials agreed to let doctors use discretion in recommending medical marijuana for other "debilitating" conditions. The agency opted not to specify any of these conditions, saying those decisions are best left to physicians.
The regulations call for operators of marijuana dispensaries to test for contaminants including pesticides, mold and mildew, to ensure safety of the marijuana. The testing must be done by independent, third-party labs with no financial connection to the dispensary, and lab technicians would be given special permission to legally possess the drug at their facilities.
Patients registered under the medical marijuana program would obtain their 60-day supply of the drug from one of the licensed, nonprofit treatment centers, but the rules also allow — in narrow hardship cases — for patients to cultivate the drug at their home if circumstances prevent them from getting marijuana from a treatment center.
One regulation adopted would ban the sale of any marijuana product that is packaged to look like candy.
The new rules officially go into effect on May 24, but Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the department of public health, said it was likely that the first dispensaries would not begin operating before the end of the year. Some operators could face obstacles to establishing facilities in local communities.
Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that while towns cannot explicitly bar medical marijuana treatment centers from being established within their borders, they can impose zoning restrictions on the dispensaries.
The law would allow certain patients to grow their own supply of marijuana in the interim period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.