The Secretary of State’s Official Summary is here. Our summary is below.

The 2012 Massachusetts Medical marijuana initiative in a Nutshell.

The purpose of the initiative is declared in its preamble:  “The citizens of Massachusetts intend that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients, physicians and health care professionals, personal caregivers for patients, or [suppliers].”

The initiative shields such individuals from punishment by exempting them from state marijuana prohibition laws, protecting them not only from arrest and prosecution under such laws, but also from denial of any right or privilege based on their conduct in acquiring or using medical marijuana in compliance with the new law.

A patient or caregiver is protected by a registration card from the state Department of Public Health (DPH), if possessing no more than a 60‐day supply of medicine when confronted by police. A 60-day supply is not more than ten ounces of medical marijuana, unless a certifying doctor finds and writes that the qualified patient requires more medicine, as if juicing rather than smoking or vaporizing. To obtain a card, the patient must be diagnosed by a licensed Massachusetts physician, with whom she has a bona fide physician-patient relationship, with one or more of the following debilitating physical conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, or other condition as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician to be debilitating. The physician then signs a certification that in her professional opinion, the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the patient with a qualifying condition. The certification must be renewed as often as the doctor requires, but not longer than year without a new assessment and examination.

The patient sends the certification to DPH, which issues the patient registration card. DPH must keep doctor‐patient records confidential, except for “Massachusetts law enforcement officials when verifying a card holder’s registration.” Qualified patients and caregivers are protected upon proof of application for the card alone (“a certified mail return receipt showing” the certificate and card application to DPH), before DPH issues the requested card. The DPH hopes to have a card system working in time for the expected opening of dispensaries later in 2014, but until the system is operating, a qualified patient’s right to protection under the law is established by possession of the doctor’s original certification.

Cardholder medicine is to be supplied by up to 35 DPH‐registered dispensaries, at least one per county and no more than five in any one county. The dispensaries, called “registered marijuana dispensaries” (RMDs), are required to be non‐profit entities. On January 31, the DPH issued licenses to 20 RMDs across the state, and more licenses are expected this year.  RMDs may have medicine available during or before the end of this 2014 summer. Any qualified patient can obtain medicine from any RMD, although dispensary sales are to be monitored to assure patients obtain no more than their maximum 60-day supply during a 60-day period.

Despite federal hostility toward medical marijuana, no patient or doctor has been federally prosecuted apart from other criminal conduct. Last year the federal Justice Department (which oversees local federal prosecutors) issued a guidance memorandum, instructing federal law enforcement in states which have legalized medical marijuana – including CO and WA, which also legalized nonmedical “recreational” marijuana – not to enforce federal prohibition law against state-legal cultivation and distribution. As of this date (February 2014), federal authorities have not interfered with licensed dispensaries operating in Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont, so Massachusetts RMDs also expect to operate free from federal interference.