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Monday, September 22, 2014

Mass Patients to Governor Patrick, "Where's the Medicine?"

ImageSeptember 22, 2014 

Massachusetts State House 
Office of the Governor, Room 105 Boston, MA 02133 

Dear Governor Patrick: 

With your term coming to a close, medical marijuana patients, their family members and their caregivers are turning to you for leadership in implementing the medical marijuana program.  It is now nearly two years since the voters approved the medical marijuana initiative in a show of compassion for for patients, and with a landslide of over 63% of the vote.  But due to inaction from the Department of Public Health (DPH), patients continue to suffer unnecessarily. 

No dispensaries have been authorized to put seeds in the ground.  The number currently awaiting approval will be inadequate to meet patient needs, requiring burdensome travel for many patients.  The current process to approve three more dispensaries still falls short of the law's requirement that the state approve a dispensary in each county. 

Hold ups at the state level have created an atmosphere of uncertainty that has prevented some operators from moving forward with construction, and led to confusion at the local level as municipalities are considering appropriate additional regulation.  This has left the state in violation of provisions in the medical marijuana law requiring the state to permit at least one dispensary per county to cultivate and provide medicine to patients by last January, and in violation of the provisions requiring the state to allow dispensaries to begin cultivation within 90 days of receiving an application.  It is now over nine months since the state received Phase II applications from dispensaries. 

The patient/caregiver registration system is not operational.  This exposes patients to arrest by local law enforcement agencies.  Patients who are compliant with the law have been arrested and charged.  The caregiver system has been effectively eliminated by DPH regulations, depriving patients of a possible avenue for safe access.  Because of these failures, many patients continue to risk their personal safety, seeking medicine down back alleys.  Others are simply going without, and some have died without ever being able to access their medicine. 

At the end of January of this year, when DPH announced plans to register 20 dispensaries, we commended the agency because it appeared safe access was in sight.  But then you put the dispensary approval process on hold.  Nearly five months ago, we delivered you a letter.  We asked for your help in moving implementation forward.  We were told to be patient.   

When we visited Secretary Polanowicz on August 20, he refused to speak with patients and caregivers.  In a follow up call with Karen van Unen three weeks later in which we hoped that our concerns would finally be addressed, I received the same message.  “Be patient.” 

Today, patients are no better off.  Again, we are asking for your help.  Our demands are clear: 

  • Begin the process to license an additional 50 dispensaries.  Today nine dispensaries are waiting to finish the inspection process, two are on hold, and DHP is considering issuing three more licenses.  This will not be enough dispensaries to meet patient needs.  We have thousands of pharmacies in the state, dispensing dangerous drugs like Oxycontin.  But under your current plan, patients seeking a safer treatment will have to travel hours to access their medicine.  Before you leave office, DPH must being the process to license additional dispensaries.   

  • Launch the patient/caregiver registration system immediately. 

  • Change the caregiver regulation.  Current regulations allow caregivers to grow medicine for only one patient.  A patient seeking medical marijuana must appoint a caregiver and then wait three to four months for the medicine to grow before they have access.  The regulation also prevents caregivers from offering medicine at a reasonable price.  Caregiving is an essential part of the medical marijuana system now that there are no dispensaries, and it will remain crucial for patients facing financial hardship and those who do not live near dispensaries in the future.  The regulation must be changed to allow caregivers to provide medicine for many patients, as they can in Rhode Island and Maine.  This should be fixed immediately with emergency regulations. 

  • Register dispensaries now.  Over eight months since the law mandated the stater register dispensaries to operate, no final registrations have yet been issued.  Make a commitment to take the approval process off hold for all 11 dispensaries that are waiting to finish the inspection process, and move forward aggressively so they can open their doors for patients before you leave office.        
It is not too late for you to fix the medical marijuana program.  Patients are counting on you for leadership.  Leaving office with no dispensary open is a legacy that will forever mar your governorship.  We stand ready to support you in efforts to bring the medical marijuana program back on track. 

Matthew Allen 
Executive Director 
Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance 
Senate President Therese Murray 
Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo 
Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, Department of Public Health 


Massachusetts State House
Office of the Governor
Room 105
Boston, MA 02133

Phone: 617.725.4005
888.870.7770 (in state)
Fax: 617.727.9725
TTY: 617.727.3666

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