Over 34,000 Massachusetts residents are registered medical marijuana patients, according to the state’s latest data. That’s a big number, but it’d probably be much higher if the registration process wasn't so confusing.
To start buying from a registered cannabis dispensary yourself, you will need to get your own valid Medical Use of Marijuana Program card. This card serves as a kind of “recommendation” (not “prescription,” which isn’t technically allowed while cannabis is illegal under federal law) to use cannabis as a form of treatment.
You’ll need to get in touch with a physician who specializes in assessing a patient’s need for medical marijuana and recommending them for treatment. You can check to see if your primary care physician is certified, but the majority aren’t. In reality, most patients look for a medical provider that specializes in medical cannabis evaluations. You can find a list of medical providers on our website.
The process becomes less complicated once you’ve obtained your card. That said, there are still some regulations and rules Massachusetts residents need to be aware of. Let's break them down:
Until retail licenses are available for stores to sell over the counter in January next year (although recreational marijuana won’t be readily accessible to buy at a dispensary until legislation is finalized in late 2018) it’s still illegal to sell cannabis for recreational use. This year-long gray zone may be too long to wait for some MA citizens. Registered medical cannabis patients, however, have somewhat more generous access.
Massachusetts law currently states that medical marijuana is restricted to patients over 18 years of age with medical conditions for which cannabis is a recognized treatment. This can be any condition deemed eligible by a certified physician, including cancer, chronic pain, and anxiety disorder.
Patients under 18 still qualify, but with more stipulations. Minors must have at least two physicians certify them rather than one. In general, minors must have a “life-limiting illness.” In other words, they have a debilitating medical condition that does not respond to treatment and aren’t expected to survive for more than two years. By exception, the patient could be eligible if their physicians believe the benefits of medical cannabis outweigh the risks.
Applying for a Program Card
To determine whether you’re eligible for medical use and to become the proud owner of a program card, there are three easy steps to take:
- Get certified: A state-approved healthcare provider specializing in medical cannabis (find one here) will evaluate your eligibility for medical use, talk through benefits and risks, and issue a certification.
- Receive a PIN: First-time registrants will also get a PIN from their healthcare provider, which is needed to register online. The PIN is provided by email, so it’s important to provide the physician in Step 1 with a valid email address that you check regularly.
- Register: You can do this by mail or online using the Medical Use of Marijuana (MMJ) Online System. While the online system is faster, it’s still a 15-stage process, so this step-by-step will help. You’ll need to provide a valid form of ID, proof of Massachusetts residency, a current photo, and the $50 registration fee (unless you qualify for a financial hardship waiver).
If your registration is approved, you’ll receive a temporary card by email right away and a more permanent plastic card within a week or two. And there you have it: you’re free to visit dispensaries across the state and to start exploring different strains.
It might sound simple, but there are a few more important things to note before getting started.
The Small Print
Before visiting a clinic for certification, it's helpful to get copies of your medical records from your regular doctor. Under Massachusetts law, a medical cannabis physician cannot just certify any person who walks through the door. Rather, there must be a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” whereby the physician makes a full medical assessment and is then part of the patient’s ongoing treatment.
Some physicians may only want to discuss your condition with you to determine eligibility, others may require proof of your qualifying condition. In some cases, this can be something as simple as a list of medications you take from your pharmacy.
Bear in mind that these physician consultations aren’t covered by health insurance and most clinics charge around $200 for certification services. Do your research to find the most affordable clinic in your area – but also the most convenient. Some clinics take appointments, and others only take walk-ins.
Just a Couple More Things
While there are still some confusingly specific provisos about what is and isn’t legal in terms of recreational use (growing more than 12 plants at home? Yeah: not okay), medical use of professionally cultivated cannabis is a generally safe option for those who require treatment.
Like all medical programs, however, initial registration doesn’t last forever. Your certification, registration, and any ID the state has on file must remain active over time. You will need to renew your registration every year, and certification validity varies in length from patient to patient.
Be reminded that the program requires you to keep your card on you at all times while in possession of cannabis for medical use.
That’s it – follow these rules and you’re good to go! If you have any questions about the registration process, registered dispensaries, or regulations, refer to the program’s webpage for the most up-to-date info.