Archive for the ‘massachusetts’ category

Massachusetts Approves First Dispensaries

February 5th, 2014

Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law was implemented over a year ago, and now the state has granted its first 20 dispensary licenses. The Department of Public HeathMA public health received 100 applications and judged them based on proposed location and the ability of the dispensary to ensure public safety while simultaneously meeting the needs of its patients.

The law allows for 35 dispensary licenses; however, only 20 have been granted so far. More competition will mean lower prices for patients, so, the sooner the last 15 licenses are granted, the better.

Massachusetts: Majority of Likely Voters Favor Legalizing Cannabis

February 4th, 2014

A majority of likely Massachusetts voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll released today.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said that they “favor … the legalization of marijuana.” Thirty-seven percent of respondents opposed legalization. Ten percent were undecided.

In previous elections, Massachusetts voters have overwhelmingly approved statewide ballot measures decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses and legalizing the dispensing of the plant for therapeutic purposes.

Local activists have already begun plans for a possible 2016 ballot initiative drive on the question of full legalization.

The Suffolk poll possesses a margin or error of +/- 4 percent.

Over the past few months, separate statewide polls in Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Texas have all shown majority support for legalizing the adult consumption of cannabis.

Recent national polls by Gallup (58 percent), CNN (55 percent), CBS (51 percent), and NBC (55 percent) have also shown majority support for legalizing cannabis.

Massachusetts Gearing Up For 2016 Legalization Campaign

January 14th, 2014

Building on steadily increasing public support, a coalition of marijuana policy reformers are looking to 2016 to get an initiative on the MassachusettsMA seal ballot to make marijuana legal for adults and regulate it similarly to alcohol.

MPP was largely responsible for the successful 2008 campaign to remove the threat of arrest for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state. Now, national and local advocates are preparing to end marijuana prohibition in the Bay State:

Outside groups are already pledging support – strategic and financial – to push for legalization in Massachusetts.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national nonprofit that says it spent about $2 million on the successful 2012 campaign for legalization in Colorado, also plans to spend money in this state.

“We intend to support an initiative in Massachusetts in 2016 that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol,” said spokesman Mason Tvert.

Bill Downing, treasurer of Bay State Repeal, a group created to get the legalization question on the ballot, said he expects other national groups to back the effort here.

NORML Argues State Prosecutors Can’t Justify Police Searches Based on Smell

November 25th, 2013

NORML filed an “amicus curiae” brief with the state supreme appellate court on Friday, November 22, urging the court to enforce the limits on police searches set by 2008′s voter-initiative state decriminalization law, which eliminating police searches and arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Attorneys Michael Cutler of Northampton and Steven Epstein of Georgetown authored the brief.norml_remember_prohibition_

In this case a Boston judge initially ruled a 2011 police search — based entirely on the smell of unburnt marijuana — violated the “decriminalization” law which made possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil infraction subject only to a fine, thereby ending police authority to search or arrest the possessor. The state appealed.

Earlier in 2011 the state supreme court ruled, in a case in which NORML also filed an amicus brief, that police searches based only on the odor of burnt marijuana were now illegal. The court reasoned that smell alone did not establish probable cause to believe a criminal amount (more than an ounce) was present, so police had no power to search or arrest.

NORML asks the court to reject the Boston prosecutor’s claim that federal prohibition — which allows arrest and imprisonment for any amount of cannabis under federal law — trumps the state decriminalization law and allows police to ignore state law and use evidence from smell-based searches in state courts.

NORML argues that state prosecutors and police must obey state law and state appellate court rulings under the state constitution’s separation of powers doctrine, requiring the executive branch to obey the legislative branch’s laws and the judicial branch’s limits on police conduct under state law and the state’s constitution.

Finally, NORML argues that the state prosecutor’s position violates fundamental principles of Federalism, which limit federal “preemption” of state law only where state law “positively conflicts” with federal law. Since the August 2013 federal Justice Department Guidance memo to  federal prosecutors nationwide, recommending no interference with state laws legalizing marijuana in a responsible manner, no such conflict exists between federal and state authority.

Oral argument in the case of Commonwealth v. Craan is scheduled for early February, with a decision possible by June 2014.


US Policy Clouds Approvals of Medical Marijuana

October 10th, 2013

Doctors at Massachusetts community health centers have been advised not to authorize any of their more than 638,000 patients to obtain marijuana for medical purposes because the centers fear they would lose their federal funding.

The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has advised its 36 federally funded facilities to hold off on issuing patient marijuana certifications under the state’s new medical marijuana law, because use remains illegal under federal law.

Health center physicians who believe marijuana might be beneficial for certain patients and authorize its use could be committing a “potential violation of federal law and could result in legal and financial exposure for community health centers,” according to a statement from the League.

This disconnect between state and federal marijuana law is cropping up in other areas as well; some rules restrict tenants who use medical marijuana from living in federally subsidized housing, or prevent Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics from authorizing medical marijuana.

Voters approved a ballot initiative in November, making Massachusetts one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, that allow medical marijuana use. Community health centers in other states also have advised doctors against authorizing patients to use marijuana.

It is not just federal funding at stake if the centers certify patients for marijuana use, but also loss of malpractice insurance, covered by a federal program known as the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Also, should a community health center physician be convicted under federal law for certifying a patient, the physician could be shut out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the insurance that covers many who use health centers.

The National Association of Community Health Centers is unaware of any center or center physician that have faced federal sanctions for prescribing medical marijuana, but the threat of prosecution or funding loss looms large.

“Community health centers have been providing access to care for decades, but there is no assurance that they would not come under federal investigation or that their physicians would not face trouble for certifying medical conditions under state medical marijuana programs, given it is an unsettled area of the law,” said Kathryn Watson, an attorney at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, a Washington-based law firm that advises the national group.

With health insurance unlikely to cover medical marijuana treatments, state regulators tried to ensure that lower-income people would be able to afford medical marijuana. State-licensed cannabis dispensaries must offer discounted or free marijuana to patients with documented financial hardship, but the community health centers’ stance could undermine that goal.

Among these patients is Gary, a 61-year-old disabled former church outreach worker who received a certification for medical marijuana use this year from his primary care physician at the Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center in Allston. A few puffs before meals helps pique his appetite, which, along with his weight, has shriveled because of hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver.

Gary asked that his last name not be used for fear of losing his publicly subsidized apartment, where medical marijuana use is prohibited.

In July, Gary received notice from the health center that his marijuana certification was being rescinded because the center was worried about losing federal funding, which accounts for about 10 percent of the facility’s funding.

“I am in a Catch-22 position,” Gary said. “I have a [doctor’s certification] that may or may not be valid.”

He has been buying marijuana on the street, bargaining prices between $200 and $300 for an ounce, and eagerly awaiting the opening of dispensaries,where he could get reduced-cost or free marijuana, as well as edible or vapor options, which would be gentler on his scarred lungs.

Paola Ferrer, grants and development director at the Allston health center, said the organization cannot risk its federal funding and care for 12,000 patients by writing certifications for a small number.

“We are really tied to the federal government and the funding stream, and until the legal issues are adequately resolved, we are not at liberty to do this,” Ferrer said.

Regulations issued by the Massachusetts health department in May require people who want to legally buy medical marijuana to receive a physician’s written certification that they have a “debilitating medical condition” that would benefit from marijuana use.

Like patients treated at community health centers, those who receive care at Veterans Affairs facilities face challenges obtaining certification. In a 2011 memo, the Department of Veterans Affairs reminded its physicians that it prohibits them from “completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state marijuana program.”

The memo, however, said department policy does not prohibit veterans who legally participate in a state marijuana program from also receiving other treatment at VA centers.

More confusing is a 2011 memo from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to public housing authorities. It directs them to establish standards and leases that prohibit new tenants, and those with new subsidized housing vouchers, from using “state-legalized medical marijuana,” but gives authorities discretion to allow medical marijuana use by current residents and “to determine continued occupancy policies that are most appropriate for their local communities.”

An August memo from the US Department of Justice to federal prosecutors has also left many lawyers and health administrators unsettled.

The department attempted to clarify its policy by listing eight priorities, such as preventing marijuana sales to minors. The priorities do not specifically mention selling, growing, or authorizing patients to get marijuana for medical use.

The department is “committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way,” the memo states.

It concludes by noting the department still has authority to enforce federal laws “including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Kay Lazar, Boston Globe Staff
Published: October 9, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Globe Newspaper Company

Finding a Place for Medical Marijuana

May 30th, 2013

The legalization of medical marijuana is prompting cities and towns across the region to consider zoning restrictions to limit where dispensaries may open. With state regulations in effect as of Friday, and the dispensary application process scheduled by the state for this summer and fall, many communities are feeling time is short to regulate what some see as an unwelcome neighbor.

Milford passed zoning restrictions last week; Framingham and Natick are looking at working together on zoning that could allow dispensaries on Route 9 in the neighboring towns; and Newton, amid several inquiries from prospective dispensary operators, is reviewing its zoning bylaw to see whether it is adequate for dealing with the new state law.

“What we’re doing is actually taking some time to internally review the regulations, since they still just came out, and we have not made any specific plans to alter the usual zoning requirements for new businesses, but we are looking into it,” said Dori Zaleznik, Newton’s commissioner of health and human services.

Massachusetts voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana via statewide ballot in November. The measure calls for a maximum of 35 nonprofit dispensaries across the state, with at least one and not more than five in each of the state’s 14 counties.MAS

Communities cannot ban dispensaries but can impose zoning laws that restrict their location, according to a March 13 ruling from Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Many municipalities have already passed or are considering a moratorium — typically lasting from six months to a year — on permits for a dispensary to buy time for reviewing their zoning regulations.

Milford decided it did not need a moratorium and went straight to zoning changes, approved by Town Meeting on May 20.

The amendment, which must still pass muster with the attorney general’s office, allows dispensaries in two of the town’s three industrial districts as long as they are not within 200 feet of a residential zone, school, place of worship, park, playground, or youth center.

The limitation translates into about 1,000 acres along Fortune Boulevard and Maple and Beaver streets available as the site of a dispensary, according to Larry Dunkin, Milford’s town planner.

Natick has already passed a moratorium, and Framingham’s Town Meeting was considering one this week.

Both communities are looking at allowing dispensaries along some part of Route 9.

Robert Halpin, Framingham’s town manager, said the moratorium would give his community some time to get a better sense of the regulations and how they are being implemented.

“I think there’s a discussion to be had with Natick,” he said. “We can talk about Route 9 and other approaches.”

Natick Town Administrator Martha White said it makes sense to work with Framingham on a shared approach.

“Since we share Route 9, and that may well be the area that’s zoned for these facilities, we want to be sure to keep each other’s communities informed and to work it out together, so we’re not negatively impacting each other,” she said.

Although many municipalities in the area see a moratorium as a first step before evaluating their zoning options, Newton is not sure that one is necessary.

“So at this point, we don’t believe we’ll need a moratorium, but we don’t know as we go through the review what we’ll end up doing,” said Zaleznik.

When the city gets inquiries, she said, staff are telling prospective dispensary operators that they should get through the first phase of the state’s two-phase application process before they look for a location in Newton.

“And hopefully by then, we will have figured out our approach,” said Zaleznik.

Despite the local moves to limit dispensaries, which by law are supposed to cultivate their own marijuana to fill prescriptions for the drug, prospective proprietors are not put off, said Bruce Bedrick, CEO of Kind Clinics and MEDBOX, based in West Hollywood, Calif.

“We’re used to that — it’s all part of the process,” said Bedrick, who serves as a consultant for the application process and also markets his technology to keep marijuana supplies secure. “People have to get comfortable with the use. Once people realize it’s just average everyday people trying to pick up medicine, I think in a few years we’ll all look back and laugh at this.”

Bedrick, whose local office is in Natick, would not say exactly how many clients he has or where they are looking to locate a dispensary, but he suggested interest is healthy, with “not many spots left” on his client roster that will max out at 35.

He praised the state Department of Public Health, and said generally the new regulations are solid.

“It’s actually great for our clients because we’re all about transparency and regulation and safety and security,” he said. “The only thing we feel is cumbersome is the verification of $500,000.” He was referring to the minimum amount that applicants must have in escrow as part of the new regulations.

Adam Fine, a lawyer with a Colorado-based firm, Vicente Sederberg LLC, that opened offices in Boston and Needham in connection with last fall’s legalization vote, also applauded the state for creating a strong regulatory environment that balances patient needs with public safety concerns.

“I think overall people are very pleased with the comprehensive nature of the regulations and the fact the Department of Public Health took a measured, thoughtful approach,” he said.

Like Bedrick, Fine could not say which towns and cities are being eyed for dispensaries, but he did say Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk counties seem to be garnering the most interest.

“The anecdotal information I’m getting is the most populous areas make the most sense because there will be more patients to serve,” he said.

Locally, one of the biggest issues that dispensaries will face might have nothing to do with zoning or moratoriums, but rather finding space to lease, he said. Part of his firm’s role is to help educate landlords, Fine said.

“Finding a location that is going to be able to house these dispensaries can be a challenge,” he said. “There are landlords that . . . until it’s completely legal under federal law, they don’t want to be a part of it.”

Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Author: Lisa Kocian, Globe Staff
Published: May 29, 2013
Copyright: 2013 Globe Newspaper Company

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Takes Dig at Pro-Legalization Senate Candidate Dan Winslow

March 19th, 2013

WinslowAt a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston this past weekend, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) took a jab at pro-legalization Republican State Representative Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk), who is currently vying for the Republican nomination for Senate in Massachusetts’s upcoming special election.

Addressing the crowd, Senator Warren said, “I advise everyone to pay very close attention to Dan Winslow’s platform. He has a 100 percent ranking from the gun lobby and he’s for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned.”

According to statements received by VoteSmart, Rep. Dan Winslow’s stance on marijuana policy is as follows:

I disfavor decriminalization of marijuana because it increases demand from illicit sources. Instead, I think we need to legalize marijuana (likely starting with medicinal marijuana in view of the current federal prohibition) and then regulate it and tax it. Only be lawful production of marijuana will the cartels, crooks and drug dealers be put out of business in the US. – State Representative Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk)

Representative Winslow is currently engaged in a primary for the GOP nomination, if he were to receive it he would face either Democratic Congressmen Stephen Lynch or Edward Markey in the June 25 special election.

New England in MPP’s Future

February 19th, 2013

The Boston Herald reported today that lawmakers in New England have been emboldened by the 2012 victories in Colorado and Washington. Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts are addressing the prospect of taxation and regulation of marijuana. Vermont is considering decriminalization, and New Hampshire is pushing to legalize medical marijuana.

While the reform discussion isn’t entirely new in the northeast – Rep. Ellen Story (D-MA)Ellen Story has submitted multiple bills in the past – MPP is optimistic about present and future measures in the region and is lending its support. MPP’s communications manager, Morgan Fox, told the Herald, “We’ve just won the first two victories in what’ll be a long road. The wind’s at our back now.”

Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2012

January 4th, 2013

This past year was undeniably the most productive 365-day period in the history of the marijuana policy reform movement. There were a number of significant accomplishments, but here is the Marijuana Policy Project’s list of the “Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2012.” As with our previous annual lists, it includes neither important scientific developments nor important international developments. Rather, this list focuses on the biggest marijuana-related policy accomplishments in the U.S. in the last year.

To read the full list, please visit The Huffington Post.


Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law In Effect

January 4th, 2013

The law overwhelmingly passed by Massachusetts voters in November officially went into effect on January 1, joining 17 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing the seriously ill to use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Nearly a third of the U.S. population can now access medical marijuana if they have a qualifying condition!

While the people of Massachusetts are generally quite pleased about this, local governments are trying to delay implementation of the new law until the Department of Public Health can establish regulations to govern the program.

Apparently, local leaders would rather continue to arrest the seriously ill than wait four months for guidance from the state.