The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) held one of three listening sessions on February 14th in Boston regarding the implementation of a November, 2012 ballot measure approving medical marijuana. The meeting provided a forum for Massachusetts residents and stakeholders to provide input to the DPH concerning forthcoming medical marijuana regulations. The DPH will be accepting additional comments at the final meeting to be held on February 27th in Worcester. The comment period will be closing on February 28, 2013 and the DPH is expected to issue regulations on the implementation of medical marijuana by May 1, 2013.

The meeting in Boston was standing room only with a large wait to speak. As it was a listening session, the DPH panel did not ask questions or comment. Numerous patients and their doctors urged the DPH to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions beyond the current list of qualifying conditions. Concerned citizens and community groups also asked the DPH to adopt regulations concerning the advertising of medical marijuana.

Prospective dispensaries urged the DPH to adopt regulations regarding the operational requirements for a licensed dispensary. Some prospective dispensaries urged the DPH to look to other states such as Colorado for requirements such as chain of custody monitoring and security which would require dispensaries to keep careful track of their inventory and ensure quality control from “seed to patient.”  Additional comments concerned anticipated inconsistencies between state and federal law.

The DPH listening sessions do not replace the requirement for formal hearings under the Massachusetts Administrative Procedure Act, codified as M.G.L. c. 30A, §1-17.  The MA legislature delegates the power to agencies such as the DPH to promulgate rules and regulations. The notices for hearing will be published in the Massachusetts Register. Written comments will be accepted by the DPH until February 28, 2013

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) held one of three listening sessions on February 14th in Boston regarding the implementation of a November, 2012 ballot measure approving medical marijuana. The meeting provided a forum for Massachusetts residents and stakeholders to provide input to the DPH concerning forthcoming medical marijuana regulations. The DPH will be accepting additional comments at the final meeting to be held on February 27th in Worcester. The comment period will be closing on February 28, 2013 and the DPH is expected to issue regulations on the implementation of medical marijuana by May 1, 2013.

The meeting in Boston was standing room only with a large wait to speak. As it was a listening session, the DPH panel did not ask questions or comment. Numerous patients and their doctors urged the DPH to expand the list of qualifying medical conditions beyond the current list of qualifying conditions. Concerned citizens and community groups also asked the DPH to adopt regulations concerning the advertising of medical marijuana.

Prospective dispensaries urged the DPH to adopt regulations regarding the operational requirements for a licensed dispensary. Some prospective dispensaries urged the DPH to look to other states such as Colorado for requirements such as chain of custody monitoring and security which would require dispensaries to keep careful track of their inventory and ensure quality control from “seed to patient.”  Additional comments concerned anticipated inconsistencies between state and federal law.

The DPH listening sessions do not replace the requirement for formal hearings under Massachusetts administrative law.  The MA legislature delegates the power to agencies such as the DPH to promulgate rules and regulations. The notices for hearing will be published in the Massachusetts Register. Written comments will be accepted by the DPH until February 28, 2013. 

If you manage a business that deals with Massachusetts residents or property, you need to know a few things about the new medical marijuana law and coming regulations.

In November, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question which allows patients with qualifying medical conditions to obtain and use medical marijuana. Seventeen other states currently allow medical marijuana with varying degrees of regulation. By May 1, 2013 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will issue regulations concerning applications for non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers as well as details on the rules that will govern such dispensaries, their employees and qualifying patients.

Some businesses may think the new medical marijuana law will not impact them, but they are mistaken. There will be at least two areas where the medical marijuana law will have an immediate impact: employment law and landlord/tenant law.

In terms of employment law, employers will need to address how the law impacts their controlled substance policies including, but not limited to, drug testing. The law contains an anti-discrimination clause that prohibits any qualifying patient from being penalized or denied any right or privilege for using medical marijuana. Employers should review their employment handbooks to ensure their employment policies and procedures are in accord with this new law and that their controlled substance policies will not be in violation.

Another business segment that will be immediately affected will be landlords and their tenants. Commercial and residential Landlords, property managers and leasing agents will be faced with how to address prospective dispensaries as tenants as well as marijuana use by tenants who are qualified patients. The anti-discrimination clause in the new law is broad and encompasses any denial of any right or privilege based on medical marijuana use. In addition to preventing discrimination based on marijuana use, the law also will allow certain persons a hardship cultivation license which will allow a person to cultivate and store a limited number of marijuana plants. Landlords need to be prepared to address these concerns and review their leases and procedures to confirm they are in accord with the new law.

There will be many novel legal issues associated with the medical marijuana laws in Massachusetts and other states. Businesses will be well advised to review the law with qualified attorneys to develop a strategy to address these many issues.