Medical Marijuana Clinics Stumble Despite Growing Demand

February 24, 2016
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There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, the old saying goes. In this case, there seems to be considerable slips between the joint and the lip, as Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program seems to be hitting frequent snags.

Dispensaries and patients alike are running into stumbling blocks in providing and obtaining medical marijuana, three years after voters approved to approve and legalize it. Dispensaries report running out of cannabis, and one has had a mold problem with its crop. Patients are still reporting trouble and confusion with the state’s online registration system.
See our list of open dispensaries in Massachusetts here

All this, in the face of growing demand. The number of patients obtaining certifications for medical marijuana from their doctors has increased by 50% in the past five months.

Dispensaries run out because they either don’t stock enough cannabis on-site, or they aren’t growing enough. The number of patients has exceeded all their expectations. One dispensary reports having a demand seven times greater than expected. Dispensaries are scrambling to make changes to meet the high demands.

There are currently four dispensaries that have cleared the complex regulation process and are open to serve patients. But providing adequate supplies continues to be a challenge, and patients must travel long distances between dispensaries when their closest option cannot accommodate them.

Two dispensaries are still working on their kitchen facilities, which are necessary to provide cannabis edibles. Patients with respiratory or immune system diseases naturally prefer to avoid smoking as a way of consuming cannabis, and rely on edible cannabis products.

Patients who depend on medical marijuana have grown frustrated. Long waits, insufficient supplies, and travel times of several hours are common. Another source of frustration is the complex online registration system. The online system, meant to be easy, presupposes a level of technological sophistication that not all patients have. The process requires the ability to scan and upload documents. Many patients do not own a scanner, and don’t understand where to find one or how to use it. The state health department spokesman Scott Zoback reports that the agency knows this and is trying to simplify the process.

Zoback also reports that the months-long process of developing new testing rules to screen for pesticides and contaminants will soon be completed. Waivers had been granted to dispensaries in the meantime, allowing them to sell their product, but only in limited amounts. Until the testing equipment completed its fine-tuning and the new rules were established, patients could only purchase 4.23 ounces every two months. By the end of February, the new rules and laboratories will be ready, and patients will then be allowed to purchase 10 ounces every two months.

Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program has been a work in progress, with a considerable learning curve. Demand for cannabis as a relief for pain and ailments remains high. It’s now up to dispensaries and state agencies to respond appropriately.

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