Mass. schedules ‘listening sessions’ to gather public input on medical marijuana rules

Circle the calendar. Massachusetts health officials have set aside three days in February for public “listening sessions” across the state to help them gather opinions and ideas as they craft highly-anticipated medical marijuana regulations.

The three-hour sessions will be held in Worcester February 13, Boston February 14, and Holyoke February 27. Each speaker will have up to three minutes to comment.

Under the November ballot referendum that legalized medical marijuana, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is required to issue regulations on implementing the law by May 1.

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The department is seeking input on several specific issues, which are outlined in a flier to be released by the department on Wednesday.

Those issues include the criteria for deciding which types of debilitating medical conditions patients must have to be authorized for medical marijuana use; security requirements for medical marijuana treatment centers; defining the quantity of marijuana that constitutes a 60-day supply, the limit patients are allowed to have under the new law; criteria for the use of marijuana in food products for medical purposes; and the requirements for people who apply to cultivate their own marijuana because of financial hardship or lack of reasonable transportation to a dispensary.

“We feel it’s important to hear what the concerns are,” Dr. Lauren Smith, interim public health commissioner, said in an interview Tuesday. “We have reached out to stakeholders like the Massachusetts Municipal Association and public safety officials.”

Smith said her department is studying regulations already in place in 17 other states that have approved the use of medical marijuana, but also wants to craft rules that are right for Massachusetts, and balance concerns about patients’ need for access with community anxieties about safety.

A number of cities and towns have recently passed zoning laws banning any marijuana dispensaries in their communities. The referendum approved by voters called for up to 35 non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers across the state, with at least one treatment center in each county.

The Feb. 13 Worcester session will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Worcester Public Library Saxe Room. The Boston session on Feb. 14 will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Roxbury Community College Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center, 1350 Tremont St. And the Feb. 27 Holyoke session will be from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Holyoke Community College Kittredge Business Center, 303 Homestead Ave.

Written comments will also be accepted through Feb. 28, at the Department of Public Health, Attention: Medical Marijuana Listening Sessions, 250 Washington St., 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02108.