Question 3: An Overview of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law

Question 3: An Overview

On November 6, 2012, Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, making Massachusetts the 18th state to allow the medical use of marijuana. The Bay State joined its New England neighbors, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine, in protecting the rights of patients whose doctors recommend medical marijuana.

In a nutshell, what does Question 3 do? Question 3 allows patients with debilitating medical conditions to possess up to a 60-day supply (10 ounces) of medical marijuana, and it requires the Department of Public Health to register up to 35 medical marijuana treatment centers — non-profit entities legally authorized to cultivate, process, transport, and distribute medical marijuana — by January 1, 2014. Patients who have limited access to treatment centers may register with the department to cultivate their own limited supply of medical marijuana.

When does the new law take effect? The law went into effect January 1, 2013. The department issued final regulations for the medical marijuana program on May 8, 2013.

How do patients qualify for legal protection under the new law? First, a patient must obtain a written certification from his or her doctor. The doctor must have a bona fide relationship with the patient and must conduct a full assessment of the patient. Then, the patient must apply to the department for a registration card, which allows the patient to be clearly identified as legal by law enforcement officers.

How much medical marijuana does the new law allow qualifying patients to possess? Patients are permitted to possess a 60-day supply, which the department determined to be 10 ounces. Patients in certain circumstances may exceed this presumptive limit if they are able to demonstrate evidence of medical necessity.

What conditions must patients have to qualify? Question 3 allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for the following medical conditions: “Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”

When will treatment centers open and begin distributing medical marijuana to patients? Once regulations are in place, Question 3 requires the department to issue registration certificates to qualified applicants wishing to operate medical marijuana treatment centers within 90 days of receiving their applications. Up to 35 centers may be registered by January 1, 2014. If the department determines 35 centers are insufficient, it may decide to increase the number in 2014. At least one center must be located in each county, and no more than five may locate in a single county. There is no clear timetable for when treatment centers will be able to open and begin serving patients.

How can a patient qualify to legally grow marijuana? Question 3 includes the following “hardship” provision: “The Department shall issue a cultivation registration to a qualifying patient whose access to a medical treatment center is limited by verified financial hardship, a physical incapacity to access reasonable transportation, or the lack of a treatment center within a reasonable distance of the patient’s residence … Such registration shall allow the patient or the patient’s personal caregiver to cultivate a limited number of plants, sufficient to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana, and shall require cultivation and storage only in an enclosed, locked facility.”