In 2015, the first medical marijuana dispensary opened in Massachusetts. This was nearly eight years after voters first approved the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana in 2008. But stoners, rejoice: Massachusetts legalized the use of marijuana in 2016, and in 2018, recreational marijuana dispensaries will be coming to the state as well. With any luck, we might just become the Colorado of the East Coast.
Even so, the laws are slightly confusing, and it can be hard to understand exactly what is and still isn’t legal. There are a ton of questions as to how medical marijuana works in Massachusetts, like: How do I even find a doctor to prescribe it to me? Can I blaze up during a late-night trip to Wendy’s or a pit stop to Sullivan’s Castle Island?
To help figure it out, we spoke to an expert with intimate knowledge of all things ganja in MA: Tim Keogh, the President of the Board at Bask Cannabis in Fairhaven. Here’s all the need-to-know facts if you want to smoke up.
How do I get a prescription for medical marijuana?
As long as you’re a resident of Massachusetts, you can sign up for a medical marijuana card if you have a qualifying medical condition. First, you’ll have to discuss your current medical conditions and medical history with a doctor, and they’ll have to explain the risks and benefits of marijuana use to you. Then you’ll be required to get a physician certification — a document signed by a doctor who believes medical marijuana will benefit you. That will cost about $200 and can be acquired from places like Canna Care or GreenWay Massachusetts.
When signing up for an ID card, you’ll have to register with the Medical Use of Marijuana Program. The registration fee is about $50, unless you’re below the federal poverty level. You can find more information here.
What are the approved conditions?
To qualify for a physician certification, you’ll need to demonstrate you have one of the approved conditions that are considered debilitating and might be alleviated by medical grade marijuana. These can include but are not limited to: AIDS, ayotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, insomnia, or anxiety, among others.
What kind of doctor do I have to go to?
You must go to a doctor or certifying physician who you have an established and “bona fide physician-patient relationship” with. This is just to prevent doctors from giving out baseless medicinal marijuana certifications to everyone who walks through their doors. Basically, as long as you go to a doctor you trust who has some sense of your medical history and is likely to support your exploration of medical marijuana use, you should be fine. However, under the law, a bona fide physician-patient relationship specifically means you have to go to a doctor you’ve already had a complete clinical visit with in the past.
According to Tim Keogh from Bask Cannabis, the scenario might not always be so straightforward, depending on who your doctor is and how they feel about legal weed. “Primary care physicians have to go through specific courses and get certified through the Department of Health,” Keogh told Thrillist, adding that some have chosen not to go through that process “because maybe they don’t feel comfortable with it and don’t want to prescribe marijuana unless it’s a last, last resort. Or they work for the VA and they’re not allowed to.” Because of that, there are clinics that have stepped in to fill that void for patients who can benefit. If you’re not able to work with a primary care physician, you can work with a clinic, and from there, it should take about three to seven days for you to get a temporary ID.
How much medical marijuana can I buy at a dispensary?
Thanks to this handy dispensary guide, you can find any and every legal marijuana dispensary in the state of Massachusetts, including ones in Boston. Currently, patients in Massachusetts who qualify to use medical marijuana are limited to a 60-day supply of up to 10 ounces with a prescription. If your doctor decides that it’s medically necessary to prescribe you more than 10 ounces for that 60-day period, you may be able to purchase more. Lucky you!
Can I pay for it using my insurance?
Unfortunately not. No insurance provider in Massachusetts currently covers medical marijuana use. Bummer. That means you’ll have to use cash or your card.
THE LEGALIZATION OF MARIJUANA ESSENTIALLY MEANS THAT IT’S SORT OFOK TO HAVE BUT DOESN’T NECESSARILY MEAN YOU CAN GET YOUR FIX ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE.
What about recreational weed? When and where can I buy it?
Recreational marijuana was legalized in 2016, but because the details are still being, ahem, hashed out, you still cannot purchase non-medical marijuana until recreational dispensaries open in the state. Fortunately, negotiations are set to finish soon so that those dispensaries can open around July 2018. The first retail sales of recreational weed will take place then, as soon as businesses have licenses to sell.
Can I smoke in public?
No. Even though it’s been legalized, it’s still illegal to consume medical or recreational weed in public. That means no smoking on sidewalks, in restaurants, at parks, schools, or on public transportation. Basically, your safest bet is smoking inside with friends and avoiding any public places, especially if you’re carrying medical marijuana but don’t have your paperwork on you just in case. The legalization of marijuana essentially means that it’s sort of OK to have but doesn’t necessarily mean you can get your fix anywhere and everywhere. Discretion is your friend.
Also keep in mind that, though weed is legal in Massachusetts, it’s still not legal under federal law. That means if you’re caught with marijuana on federal lands, including parks or monuments, you can still be charged with a federal crime. So you probably want to keep your cannabis at home if you’re going to Cape Cod for the weekend.
So can I still be charged with illegal possession?
The short answer is yes. Again, even though it’s technically legal, you still need to have the necessary paperwork that shows you qualify to use it for medical reasons. Without it, you’re still breaking the law. If you do qualify and are legally registered, though, you can possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of your residence, or up to 10 ounces inside your residence. Having anything more than that, or getting caught without the proper paperwork for medical marijuana, still makes you liable to be charged, and fined or put in jail. Toke responsibly, folks.
Am I allowed to grow my own medical marijuana?
That’s a yes! The medical marijuana laws currently allow both registered patients and caregivers to grow their own marijuana. But there’s a catch — in order to grow marijuana legally, you’d have to provide proof that purchasing medical marijuana from a dispensary would result in “hardship.” It can be a documented financial hardship, being physically unable to get to a dispensary, or not having a dispensary within reasonable distance from your home. You can also get a written recommendation from your doctor to grow marijuana if you qualify.
Still, even if you qualify for the hardship exception, you or your caregiver are only allowed to grow a limited number of marijuana plants. You can only grow however many plants will give you a 60-day supply. As of 2016, any adult who qualifies may now grow up to six marijuana plants at a time, with a limit of 12 plants per residence. But of course there’s another catch. You also have to grow and store the marijuana in an enclosed, locked area that can’t be seen by and isn’t accessible to the public. On top of that, you can’t grow it at your home and also have a caregiver grow it at theirs. It’s one or the other, kiddo.
If I already have a medical marijuana recommendation from another state, can I use it to buy legal weed in Massachusetts?
Nope. You have to be registered IN Massachusetts in order to legally purchase medical marijuana in the state. However, state laws include a clause that allows patients visiting Massachusetts from other states to possess their own medical marijuana while in Massachusetts.
Can I take the weed that I buy in Massachusetts to another state?
If you’re planning to stock up in Massachusetts and then take a road trip, beware. If you travel across state lines, it’s possible that you could be charged with a federal felony — even if you’re legally registered as someone who qualifies to use medical marijuana in Massachusetts.
Some states have reciprocity with others, which might honor another state’s medical marijuana prescriptions. Even so, taking marijuana across state lines is still illegal, and it would be smart to register with the state you’re visiting to purchase any marijuana you need from a dispensary in that state.
What about transporting it within the state? Can I do that?
You can only legally transport marijuana if you yourself are a registered medical marijuana patient, caregiver, or work for a registered marijuana dispensary. Otherwise, transporting marijuana (in any amount) is still illegal in Massachusetts. To be able to legally transport it, all you need is your medicinal marijuana ID card. Then — and only then — can you carry the legal amount that your doctor has prescribed you for your 60-day supply. That means you can carry up to 10 ounces of marijuana legally, unless your doctor has prescribed you more.
If you’re not the one buying or transporting marijuana, but you’re a registered caregiver, you’re allowed to bring a patient to and from a dispensary or purchase it and take it to them. People who work at dispensaries are allowed to transport marijuana to other dispensaries and to caregivers or registered patients as well.
When all is said and done, what will the cannabis industry look like in Massachusetts?
The licenses that will allow recreational marijuana dispensaries to open are currently being decided on by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), the five-member panel in charge of regulating Massachusetts’ marijuana industry. Massachusetts may also become the first state to issue social use licenses. The CCC’s draft regulations are apparently proposing two types — primary and mixed use. It’ll break down like this:
Any business that makes more than half its money from the sale of marijuana products would need a primary use license. Sometimes this kind of business is known as a “cannabis cafe.” Think of spots like those in Amsterdam where you can get menus with the strains of the day. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t been resolved if you’d be able to smoke there or not. A mixed-use license would be required for businesses that want to sell marijuana as a product, but as a sideline to its principal business, like restaurants or cafes that might add a marijuana-infused dish to the menu, or movie theaters that might sell pot brownies, for example. If all of this business is resolved by the CCC for July, perhaps July 4 truly will feel like Independence Day, after all.
After that, Keogh explained that Massachusetts could end up with even more dispensaries than Colorado. It all boils down to population density; Massachusetts is much smaller geographically, with 20% more people than Colorado crammed into it. Colorado has just over 3,000 licensed marijuana businesses, total — including growers, processors, and sellers spread out across the state. Massachusetts’ population of 6.86 million and proximity to other big cities like New York would open the floodgates for much higher demand, by comparison. “There’s 50 million people with a four-hour drive time [to Massachusetts],” Keogh told us. Once all the pieces lock into place, “anyone over 21 years old can come and purchase marijuana… That’s what makes it, in my opinion, one of the most attractive markets to operate in, and I think it will grow.”