State issues marijuana guidelines

March 31, 2013 By Emily O’Donnell, The Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – The state Department of Public Health issued 45 pages of draft regulations on Friday establishing rules for the sale and use of medical marijuana, including a proposed list of maladies and a 10-ounce limit on legal possession of the drug.

The regulations would allow patients with a “debilitating medical condition” to receive a 60-day supply of marijuana, and encouraged patients to send a caregiver to pick up the supply if necessary in lieu of growing pot at home.

The list of conditions include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, but would allow for additional ailments based on input from doctors and patients. The draft regulations allow a qualified patient up to 10 ounces for personal use. In states such as California, patients are allowed up to 8 ounces; in Washington the limit is 24 ounces.

The health department recommended that only nonprofit organizations be allowed to operate medical marijuana treatment centers. Interested groups would have to pass a lengthy application process, including a background check for any history of drug-related offenses.

Though the report made no mention of zoning guidelines, the DPH recommended applicants provide “evidence of compliance with local codes and bylaws for the address of the center, including any demonstration of support furnished by the local municipality.” The suggested regulations follow last November’s passage of a state-wide ballot initiative legalizing the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

The law, which passed by 63 percent of the vote, requires the establishment of at least one, but no more than five, pot dispensaries in each of the state’s 14 counties, or a total of 35 centers. Many municipalities around the state reacted to the vote by taking steps to ban pot centers. North Attleboro and Foxboro have both put off discussing where dispensaries would be placed until state regulations are final.

Many municipal leaders are opposed to allowing centers in their communities, citing a fear of increased crime and drunk driving rates. Area officials said they are waiting for specific zoning guidelines, which are scheduled to be released May 1 by the DPH, before considering what to do about the dispensaries, a move OK’d by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Though Coakley recently struck down an outright zoning ban on a potential medical marijuana center in Wakefield, she added that “cities and towns may adopt zoning bylaws to regulate such treatment centers and enact temporary moratoria on the development of centers.” The health department will hold public meetings in Boston, Plymouth and Northampton on April 19 to gather public comment. It will accept written statements up until April 20.

The department will present the draft regulations to the Public Health Council, an appointed group of doctors and legislators who will review the suggestions. The council will approve final rules on May 8.