At least 20 marijuana dispensaries have been approved to be opened in Massachusetts as historical strides are taken in the U.S. to legalize the once vilified weed. On Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, the Boston Department of Public Health approved marijuana dispensaries across several communities. Massachusetts joins 20 other states that allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes. In 2012, voters approved the use of medical marijuana for 35 dispensaries but no more than five are to be located in any one county.
State law requires dispensaries to grow and manufacture the marijuana they sell and they must be non-profit organizations. Most companies will grow in rural areas. Of the 14 counties in Massachusetts, 10 have received permits to begin the distribution process. Although the dispensary owners have received state approval, they must now seek local approval, including inspection, public health rules and zoning.
Local authorities have said that it is likely that there will not be sales until early to late summer as the dispensaries will need time to grow their first crops, seek local approvals, prepare property renovations and receive financing.
Many prospective users of medical cannabis, like Allison Jones, are glad that they will have alternative options to pain management. Jones is still undergoing surgery from a car accident. Jones stated that dispensaries will give a range of choices that will be safe and certified and not from the black market.
However, the Massachusetts Medical Society cautions that there is not enough scientific information to confirm that medical cannabis is safe or effective. As marijuana dispensaries open in Massachusetts, the MMS urges patients to talk with their doctors and discuss the potential side effects of the drug as with any approved prescription. The Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-marijuana lobby group from Colorado, states that opening legal dispensaries will remove the need for personal growing of cannabis and underground black market sales. The MPP also stated that regulating marijuana sales and creating a competitive market will drive down prices.
The Department of Public Health has released the criteria for approved uses of medical marijuana. The memo states that patients must obtain written certification from a physician for a debilitating medical condition. The law specifies diseases such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. However, the DPH falls just short of tightening the conditions by stating “and other conditions” as determined in writing from a qualified physician.
Advocates for all-out legalization are catalyzed by the legislation for medical marijuana and are laying the groundwork for the 2016 presidential elections. The successes of voter approval of across-the-board legalization in Washington and Colorado have empowered groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) to begin the process of bringing legalization to the ballot in Massachusetts in 2016. In 2008, Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and in, 2012, allowed the opening of dispensaries. Both votes came with over 63 percent voter approval.
Legislators and analysts caution that Massachusetts may not be ready for the legalization of marijuana. Even though Massachusetts has legalized marijuana dispensaries to open for medical purposes, the push for recreational use is a very different case. However, the Marijuana Policy Project that spent $2 million for the legalization in Colorado believes that the 2016 elections, when young voters come out to the polls, will be a perfect time in marijuana legalization history to push the agenda in Massachusetts.
By Anthony Clark