Medical Marijuana Funds Not Going to Seed

MA DPH takes Medical Marijuana Funds without Growing Marijuana

Two years ago, Massachusetts passed a law that allows medical marijuana. It has been a great success – for the MA Department of Health, that is. MassDPH has taken in $3,271,500 in fees from would-be dispensaries without saying yes to a single one, and without planting a single pot plant. What’s more, MassDPH can look forward to hefty annual fees from any of those that do get the go-ahead.

With many clinics eager to get in the game, why have none gotten the green light? It’s unclear. Since the law passed in 2012, 181 have applied, paying fees of $1,500 each. Of these, 81 did not get past the first cut. (And, no, they didn’t get their fees refunded.) One hundred moved on, paying $30,000 each for the privilege. Of those, only 11 are still in the process, yet none have been approved.

Last month, medical marijuana advocates, including patients, their families and doctors, held a press conference to talk about the delays. They were told that MassDPH is doing site visits to the eleven clinics that have made it so far.

Maybe someone should remind the DPH that MA will be hosting the first ever New England Cannabis Convention in January 2015, in Boston. The convention will show off many items of interest, such as ways to consume pot without smoking. Even more important, it will help patients connect with doctors and find dispensaries. That is, if there are any dispensaries open by then.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has been clear that he is against medical pot being sold in Boston, but insists that he will follow the people’s wishes. Back in June, the medical marijuana program’s head Karen van Unen guessed that the first stores to buy the drug for treatment could open by November. It seems like a long shot, since that date is now less than two weeks away.

Any shops that are approved will have to pay $50,000 to register, $500 for an “agent” fee, and another $50 per patient. They will also have to pay at least $1,500 for an on-site review of the store. Could the thought of all that revenue help speed the process?

“If my doctor feels cannabis would help my condition and it’s legal, why can’t I get relief?” was a typical question at the press conference, hosted by The MA Patient Advocacy Alliance’s chief, Matthew Allen. “We’re not interested in placing blame,” said Allen. But five months after being told to “be patient,” Allen said, “there’s plenty of blame to go around.”

Meanwhile, patients with diseases that could be helped by medical marijuana continue to suffer. Six-year old Madison battles seizures up to 20 times a day, a condition known to be helped by cannabis. Even doctors who are patients have spoken up. Dr. Peter Hayashi, who suffers from a painful illness, spoke at the press conference. “I’m very disappointed we’re at this stage of no-progress,” he said, telling how his pain affects his life.

Patients who have already been waiting much too long for their treatments agree. Pleading to MA Governor Deval Patrick, Madison’s mother said, “We demand access to the cannabis treatment that can save Maddie’s life. Please look at [her] and tell her why you won’t help.”

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