As more medical marijuana dispensaries in more Massachusetts locations open, the demand is soaring. The newest dispensary to open is New England Treatment Access, in Northampton. As an example of how much demand is growing, New England Treatment provided medical marijuana to about the same number of patients in its first three weeks as the first Massachusetts dispensary (which opened in Salem in June of 2015) had served in its first two months.
Amid controversy over which health conditions benefit from medical marijuana, and the specifics of prescribing and distributing medical marijuana, one thing is clear: more and more patients are seeking relief through marijuana and cannabis products.
The Salem dispensary, Alternative Therapies Group, takes patient by appointment only. No appointments are needed in Northampton, and New England Treatment sees as many as 40 walk-in patients each day.
The typical medical marijuana patient does not fit any stereotypes of “stoners” or “potheads.” In Northampton, you’re more likely to see baby boomers than millennials at the local dispensary, with the average patient age at 47. One quarter of patients are over the age of 60, reflecting a similar national trend.
In Colorado, by contrast, the average age of medical marijuana patients is closer to 43, and only 16% are above 60 years. Whether this reflects the fact that the population of Massachusetts is, on average, older than that of Colorado, or is the result of differing cultural attitudes, or something else entirely, has not been studied.
Massachusetts reported an increase of 2,000 more certified medical marijuana patients in September alone. As of the beginning of October, the state health department reported 19,783 certified medical marijuana patients in Massachusetts.
Only certain, specific medical conditions qualify for medical marijuana treatment. A physician must certify that a patient suffers from seizures, chronic pain, or nausea resulting from chemotherapy, or other similar conditions. State regulations require the physician to then submit the information to the state health department for consideration.
In Massachusetts, three dispensaries have already been approved, and are open and operating. Alternative Therapies was the first, in Salem; then New England Treatment, in Northampton; and finally Good Health, in Brockton, which opened in September. A fourth company, Patriot Care, has just received permission to begin planting. They hope to open three dispensaries in February: in Lowell, Greenfield and in the heart of downtown Boston. New England Treatment is planning to expand by opening a second dispensary in Brookline by the year’s end. An additional company has received the go-ahead to begin planting, but is not yet ready to open.
Concerns about screening medical marijuana for potentially harmful contaminates continues. Laboratories are still developing quality-testing procedures that can accurately measure pesticides or heavy metals in commonly-used dosages. In the meantime, state regulators have imposed a limit to the amount of marijuana that can be sold at one time to one person. Currently, dispensaries may provide up to 4.23 ounces to patients every two months. After screening procedures are refined, that limit will be raised to 10 ounces of marijuana every two months.