Below is what we reported in late-2012, after the voters said yes to medical marijuana. As of Spring, 2015, no dispensaries have opened, though a handful have been authorized to commence cultivation from seeds, in expectation that they will open in the early fall of 2015. In the last FAQ below, we stated that dispensaries would be open no earlier than January 2, 2014. That was certainly an understatement.


The voters having spoken, is medical marijuana now legal in Massachusetts?
Not yet. Beginning January 1, 2013, patients and doctors acting in compliance with the law will be protected from state and local police, but not against the enforcement of federal prohibition laws.  Legal production and distribution by dispensaries (medical marijuana treatment centers)  must await the adoption and implementation of regulations by the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the award of licenses. We expect that licensed operations are unlikely to begin before January of 2014. Whether the dispensaries open depends on their not being blocked by federal authorities, and prompt DPH processing of licensing applications. Until a licensed dispensary opens within the county, limited cultivation is allowed by qualifying patients and their designated caregivers with proper documentation. Obviously, such operations also are subject to federal interference despite their compliance with state law.

When does the law take effect?
January 1, 2013.  It should be noted that the law is not invulnerable to being weakened or restricted by legislative amendment.

How does the law protect patients?
Patients and their caregivers are protected in possessing and cultivating (until licensed dispensaries open, although limited hardship cultivation will be permitted afterwards) up to a sixty-day supply of medicine, provided the patient’s doctor certifies in writing that the patient has a qualifying illness or symptom and that the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh its risks to the patient.

What must a patient do to be protected from the police?
The patient (or patient-caregiver) must mail to the DPH and keep a certified mail receipt of an application for inclusion in the DPH patient-caregiver registry, along with the patient’s doctor’s certification and caregiver designation if desired by the patient. The DPH registry card, or the receipt of DPH mailing pending the issuance of the DPH registry card, protects patients (or patient-caregivers) from state and local police interference. We will be developing forms to comply with all the rules. For pre-dispensary protection, see A Guide to Documentation.

How does the law protect doctors and other health care professionals?
Patient consultations with doctors and other health care professionals working with doctors regarding the medical use of marijuana are protected from state and federal interference as a matter of federal constitutional law. Doctors certifying patient access to medical marijuana in compliance with the initiative (who have a good faith doctor-patient relationship with the patient seeking the certification), and other health care professionals working with doctors who refer patients to doctors for medical marijuana assessment and certification, are protected by the initiative from interference or penalty by state law enforcement and other state agencies including health care professional licensing agencies.

How will patients obtain their medicine?
Until the DPH issues licenses for the operation of wholesale cultivation and retail distribution of medicine, patients must grow their own in accordance with initiative requirements (in amounts not more than a sixty-day supply of medicine), or obtain medicine cultivated by their DPH-registered caregivers.

Will dispensaries require a license?
Dispensaries for the wholesale cultivation and retail distribution of medicine to any qualified patient, identified under the initiative as Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs), must be licensed by the DPH.

By what criteria will licenses be issued?
The exact criteria will be unknown until May 1, 2013 at the earliest, but can reasonably be expected to resemble the rules in states with similar laws.  The initiative requires at least one licensed MMTC per county and no more than five per county, and requires that an MMTC be a nonprofit entity.

How competitive  will the process be for awarding licenses?
Massachusetts applicants can expect 500 applications to compete for 35 licenses, if Arizona’s recent experience is a reasonable guide. Both states have approximately 6.5 million residents.

What is the procedure for applying for a license?
The procedure will be spelled out by DPH regulations, expected May 1, 2013. There will likely be a “window,” perhaps one month, for filing applications, probably in the summer.  Suffolk County, and Middlesex County likely will have five licensees; Franklin and Berkshire Counties likely will have only one licensed MMTC each. The available licenses in other counties will be matters of DPH choice and the number of well-qualified applicants in each county.

Will patients, doctors and suppliers be protected under federal law?
No. The initiative does not affect federal law. Unless involved in cultivation or conduct violating state medical laws, however, federal prosecutors have not targeted patients or their doctors. Federal law enforcement must respect doctor-patient confidentiality and their freedom-of-speech rights to discuss and recommend access to medical marijuana.

Must dispensaries do their own cultivation?
An MMTC applicant may apply for a DPH license to operate cultivation and distribution operations, or only as a distribution facility (presumably)  contracting with a licensed MMTC cultivation facility for its supply of medicine.

Will edibles be legal?

When will state-licensed dispensaries open for business?
Not likely earlier than January 2, 2014.