Metro

State aims to ease fears of medical marijuana patients

Hoping to assuage fears that medical marijuana patients could find their medicine in short supply when dispensaries begin selling to the newly-legal retail market, state pot regulators on Tuesday agreed to a policy that will require dispensaries to hold some marijuana aside for medical patients.

Registered medical dispensaries that wish to add the ability to sell marijuana to non-patients will be required to reserve 30 percent of their inventory or the six-month average of its medical marijuana sales for medical marijuana patients under the proposal the Cannabis Control Commission agreed to Tuesday.

Medical marijuana patient advocates cheered the new policy. Patients had been worried that the demand for marijuana around the expected July 1 launch of adult use marijuana sales would overwhelm the supply and make it harder for patients to find the medicine they use.

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“The patients were very concerned, I had been hearing about it over years and years in my advocacy,” Nichole Snow, the president and executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said. “We just wanted to deliver what we see out in the real world to the commission and it looks like they took all of our messages very seriously.”

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Snow and other medical marijuana patients had been lobbying the CCC to do something that would protect the supply of marijuana for medical patients. There are currently 22 RMDs open for medical marijuana sales in Massachusetts serving more than 46,000 patients, according to the Department of Public Health.

By law, licensed RMDs that apply to sell recreational marijuana will get priority when applications are reviewed, leading to the likelihood that many of the retail shops that are prepared to begin selling marijuana on July 1 will be RMDs.

CCC chairman Steven Hoffman called protecting the supply of marijuana for registered patients “a very important social welfare and health issue.” The CCC unanimously agreed to the policy and commissioners are expected to take final votes next week to enshrine the policy into regulation.

The CCC is in the middle of three days of policy debate based on the feedback elected officials, interest groups, and citizens had to the commission’s draft regulations.

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Though some votes were postponed until Wednesday so the commission can craft the specific regulation language, regulators on Tuesday morning were also in agreement on a system they said will help prevent overgrowing and diversion from licensed marijuana farms.

The CCC’s regulations have established four tiers of production — ranging from up to 1,000 square feet to larger than 10,000 square feet — and agreed Tuesday to a policy that will bump a licensee down to a lower tier if it has not shown an ability to sell at least 85 percent of what it is authorized to grow.

“It’s kind of like Premier League football,” Hoffman said. “It’s called relegation, I think.”

Under a relegation system, a cultivator who is licensed to grow up to 10,000 square feet but does not sell at least 85 percent of its product into the legal market during a six-month period would be bumped down a tier and would see its maximum authorized canopy area decrease from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet.

“I personally believe that the issue of diversion and overproduction is easily addressed by the relegation,” Hoffman said. “There’s not going to be overproduction because we’re going to force people to a lower tier if they’re not producing.”

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The CCC on Tuesday morning agreed to reduce the proposed fees and fines for outdoor growers by 50 percent — the new application fees would range from $50 to $300 based on the size of the farm and the new annual license fee schedule would start at $500.