November 15, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program

November 15, 2012
massachusetts cannabis

massachusetts medical marijuana faq faq'sImportant Things You Need To Know About The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program

The following message was posted on Twitter by Shaleen Title (Vicente Sederberg LLC, Marijuana Majority):

“Our new FAQ for potential medical marijuana patients in Mass. If you find it useful, please share” Well Shaleen, considering this information is AWESOME, I will share it as much as I can. I encourage all TWB readers to do the same:

It’s an exciting time in Massachusetts! Finally, patients who need it will be able to have safe and dignified access to medical marijuana.

As the country’s first national medical marijuana law firm, we have received a flood of questions at our Massachusetts office over the past week. The following explanations are a response to the most common questions we’ve received from phone calls, emails, and on our Facebook page. Please note that these are educational materials, not legal advice. We hope you find them helpful.

The Department of Public Health is charged with writing regulations to implement the law in terms of the registration process for patients and caregivers and the application process for treatment centers. Therefore, many of the details surrounding those processes will not be available until the regulations are released in 2013.

Becoming a medical marijuana patient is a serious undertaking, and there are many precautions you should take if you choose to become a patient. We encourage you to attend our free public seminar in the Community Room of the Cambridge Community Center on November 29. More details are at the end of this page.

When does the law go into effect?

The Massachusetts medical marijuana law goes into effect January 1, 2013. Please be aware that before that date, medical marijuana patients in MA likely have no  protections, regardless of whether you already have a recommendation from your doctor.

What does it mean to be a qualifying patient?

Within certain limits (discussed later), a qualifying patient cannot be punished under MA law for using medical marijuana or possessing a 60 day supply of medical marijuana.

Until the regulations implementing cultivation registrations are released by the Department of Public Health in May 2013, all qualifying patients are permitted to cultivate a limited amount of marijuana.

How can I become a qualifying patient?

In order to become a qualifying patient protected by the new law, you must have a document called a “written certification” signed by a licensed physician. This certification demonstrates that your doctor has diagnosed your debilitating medical condition and that your doctor feels that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh any health risks for your specific condition.

By May 2013, the Department of Public Health will issue regulations outlining how to obtain a medical marijuana registration card. We will update our FAQ a soon as that process is decided. Until then, your written certification will serve as a registration card. In order to obtain the protections under the law, you must keep a copy of your written certification with you at all times you are in possession of medical marijuana and show that form to a law enforcement officer if he or she asks.

How do I talk to my doctor?

Be honest.  There is nothing wrong with using medical marijuana or discussing it with your doctor. The MA medical marijuana law specifically protects doctors from any punishment by the state for advising patients about medical marijuana or providing patients with certification. If you doctor is nervous, bring a copy of the law with you. Additionally, what you say to your doctor about your health is protected by medical confidentiality. You can tell your doctor about your condition, your experiences using conventional medicines, and (if applicable) your experiences using marijuana.

Does my recommendation expire?

There is no expiration date listed in the law; however, the Department of Public Health may include an expiration when it releases its regulations.

When can I obtain marijuana from a medical marijuana treatment center?

Treatment centers will open in 2014 at the earliest, based on the timeline stated in the law — four months for the Department of Public Health to develop regulations and applications; additional time for potential treatment centers to apply; and three months for the Department to consider the applications and issue registrations.

What is a caregiver and what do I do if I need one?

A caregiver is a person who assists you with obtaining medical marijuana if you need it. If you are a qualifying patient, you can designate a caregiver, who must be at least 21 years old. Again, by May 2013, the Department of Public Health will issue regulations outlining how a caregiver obtains a registration card. Before then, in lieu of a registration card, a caregiver should keep a copy of the qualifying patient’s application to the Department of Public Health showing that the caregiver was designated by the patient.

Can I grow marijuana or can my caregiver grow marijuana for me?

If you are a qualifying patient AND you qualify as having a “hardship”, yes.  A hardship means that you are unable to access a treatment center for one of several reasons. If there is no treatment center within a reasonable distance of your residence, or none have opened yet, then either you or your caregiver can grow medical marijuana for you. It must be grown in an enclosed, locked facility, and you can only grow enough to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana for your own use. The Department of Public Health will specify in its regulations how much marijuana a 60-day supply is.

Until final regulations are issued, your written certification permits you to cultivate a 60 day supply of medical marijuana. We recommend keeping a copy of this written certification on the wall of the enclosed lock space you are cultivating your medical marijuana.

Is using medical marijuana illegal federally?

Yes, even after the Massachusetts medical marijuana law goes into effect, medical marijuana will remain illegal under federal law. Despite the protections to patients from state and local police, as discussed herein, medical marijuana patients remain subject to federal arrest and prosecution even if they are in full compliance with state law. It should be noted that federal prosecutions of individual medical marijuana patients and their caregivers are rare. The federal Department of Justice has noted it is a low enforcement priority for them to investigate and prosecute patients and their individual caregivers if they are in unambiguous compliance with state law.

What happens to people using marijuana who are not qualified medical patients?

Generally, penalties for possession of marijuana for everyone except qualifying patients will remain the same. The possession of one ounce of marijuana or less for personal use will remain a civil offense with a maximum fine of $100.

There is an important exception, however.  Fraudulently using a medical marijuana registration card or cultivation registration will be a misdemeanor or, if distribution/sales are involved, a felony.

What are the limits for patients?               

There are two limits you should be aware of. Qualifying patients are only protected from punishment if:

1)     You only possess the amount of marijuana necessary for a sixty-day supply for your own personal, medical use (again, what amount constitutes a 60-day supply will soon be determined by the Department of Public Health)

2)      You present your registration card (or your written certification from your doctor, until you are able to obtain your card) to any law enforcement official who questions you regarding the use of marijuana.

It is also important to note that the new law does not give you the right to smoke medical marijuana in public.

Will insurance cover medical marijuana?

Not likely. Nothing in the medical marijuana law requires any health insurance provider to reimburse patients for the expenses of the medical use of marijuana.

How can I learn more?

To learn more about the Massachusetts medical marijuana law and our advice for patients in particular, join us on Thursday, November 29 for a free public seminar at 6:00pm in the Community Room of the Cambridge Community Center. The seminar is open to anyone who wants to attend, but you must register in advance here. We will cover all aspects of the law, including a know-your-rights component in case of police encounters. Presented by Vicente Sederberg, LLC and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Speakers include:

Brian Vicente, Esq., (licensed in Colorado) is a founding member of Vicente Sederberg, LLC, a law firm providing legal solutions for the medical marijuana community. He also serves as executive director of Sensible Colorado, Colorado’s leading non-profit working for medical marijuana patients and providers. Brian is the chair of the Denver Mayor’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel, serves on the Colorado Department of Revenue Medical Marijuana Oversight Panel, and coordinates the Colorado Bar Association’s Drug Policy Project. He was awarded the prestigious Gideon award for his free speech advocacy during the 2008 Democratic National Convention and was selected as “Freedom Fighter of the Month” by High Times magazine. In 2010 Brian was elected the first-ever chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association, the only trade association in the U.S. that works to advance the interests of cannabis-related businesses on the national level. Recently, Brian authored and directed the campaign for Amendment 64, a successful ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in the state of Colorado. 

Christian Sederberg, Esq., (licensed in Colorado) is a founding member of Vicente Sederberg, LLC. After graduating from the University of Colorado School of Law in May 2005, Christian focused his practice on representing small and medium sized businesses, with a primary focus on real estate, commercial and business transactions. In addition to providing general guidance to medical marijuana businesses, ancillary businesses and caregivers about local and state medical marijuana ordinances, regulations and laws, Christian has provided a wide range of real estate and business transactional and regulatory assistance to the medical marijuana community, including negotiating the purchase and sale of a number medical marijuana businesses, negotiating and documenting the transfer of medical marijuana facilities, drafting leases, subleases, employment contracts (on behalf of both growers and medical marijuana business owners), partnership agreements and operating agreements and representing individuals and businesses in front of the Colorado Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Shaleen Title, Esq., (licensed in Massachusetts) is an associate with Vicente Sederberg, LLC and directs the Massachusetts branch. She holds a graduate degree in accounting; she worked in the multistate tax group of Deloitte Tax analyzing and identifying tax opportunities and assisting in preparing tax compliance and reviewing tax provisions for complex multistate clients. She was the 2010 recipient of the Hunter S. Thompson young attorney award and the September 2012 recipient of the High Times Freedom Fighter award.  Prior to joining Vicente Sederberg, she served as state campaigns director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, where she managed a global network of cops, judges, prosecutors, federal agents and corrections officials who support a legal and regulated model to control drugs.  She serves on the board of directors for Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Marijuana Majority.

Karen Hawkes is a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who served as a Massachusetts state trooper for thirteen years. During that time, she served as a contraband officer, processing narcotics evidence and preparing it to be analyzed. Karen graduated cum laude from both Northeastern University for her BSBA degree in finance and Western New England College for her graduate degree in criminal justice administration. She is also a member of the Massachusetts Patients Advocacy Alliance. As a mother and someone has worked with children in several capacities including her work as a Girl Scout leader and Sunday school teacher, she is very concerned about the effect of the war on drugs on children and on law enforcement officers.


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