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Legal Notes: Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law

Attorney Seunghee ChaAttorney Seunghee ChaDespite the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts since December 2016, with now more than 60 dispensaries throughout the Bay State, the law for medical use of marijuana is still relevant and particularly important to older people.

Under the Massachusetts Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana, in effect as of January 2013, qualifying patients can obtain a physician’s certification if they have debilitating medical conditions for which the potential benefits outweigh the health risks. With age, the proclivity to chronic illness increases, making many older adults good candidates for this treatment, which is used to alleviate symptoms of cancer, MS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, insomnia, and arthritis, among others. Reports indicate that medical marijuana reduces the use of opioids and other prescription medications. It can even be a cheaper alternative.

For qualifying patients, the law permitting medical use of marijuana provides better benefits than the law legalizing recreational marijuana.

For qualifying patients, the law permitting medical use of marijuana provides better benefits than the law legalizing recreational marijuana. Cardholders of medical marijuana can purchase larger amounts and products with a higher concentration of the psychoactive component of cannabis. They can also cultivate more plants (up to 60 days of supply) for their own use. Furthermore, they do not pay tax; recreational users are charged the normal 6.25% sales tax + 10.75% excise tax (and up to 3% in additional sales tax in some localities). For patients who can verify financial hardship, medical marijuana treatment centers must offer reduced cost.

If you are a caregiver, you must be registered with the Commonwealth’s Medical Use of Marijuana Program in order to accompany a cardholder to a dispensary or to purchase, transport, administer, or cultivate marijuana on their behalf. It is common for family members to be caregivers: you need to be registered for each cardholder—for example, if you are caring for both parents.

Proponents of medical marijuana are advocating to end the persistent stigma of its use, including within the medical profession, and to strengthen the existing law. Currently when certified patients are hospitalized, the institution can deny the patient’s use of medical marijuana within its facility.

Medical marijuana is not without controversy. Research shows a correlation between the use of marijuana and a decline in cognitive functioning. Under federal law marijuana is still an illegal substance. Health insurance companies do not provide coverage, and the cost of medical marijuana does not qualify as a deductible medical expense.

Yet, according to health care professionals and dispensaries, interest is strong among older people. Medical use of marijuana has become a recognized treatment option for managing many debilitating conditions and delivery of palliative care. Understanding the regulation of this burgeoning industry is now an important part of patient education and advocacy.