As in many other states in which marijuana has been legalized, caregivers in Massachusetts have been providing for the needs of the thousands of patients that require marijuana for medical purposes. This is the situation that caregivers and patients now find themselves in until dispensaries are allowed to operate in the state, which is expected to happen in November 2014 at the earliest. However, caregivers have found themselves the target of health officials who have recently begun cracking down on their operations. The reason? State regulations that prohibit individual caregivers from selling marijuana to more than a single patient.
Medical marijuana has only been legal in Massachusetts for 18 months. In that period – and until dispensaries are allowed to operate – the sole source of marijuana for medical users are private caregivers that now find themselves the target of increasingly rigid state regulations.
More than 1,300 medical marijuana patients and 17 caregivers have received letters of warning from the state, essentially informing them of the illegality of caregivers providing marijuana to more than one patient.
Because these caregivers are currently the only legal sources of marijuana in Massachusetts, the crackdown has been met with considerable resistance by patients as well as caregivers who routinely provide marijuana to several patients. For those who provide and make use of medical marijuana, the rigid regulations make it unfairly difficult to get the medication that legalization was supposed to have made more accessible. Many patients suffering from medical conditions have now had to find caregivers who currently do not service anyone else.
One such patient is David Tamarin, a lawyer who takes cannabis to ease anxiety and chronic back pain. A recipient of one of the warning letters issued by the state, Tamarin expressed the opinion that legalization should make it easier – and not more difficult – for patients to obtain medical marijuana.
Tamarin’s own caregiver, William Downing of Yankee Care Givers based in Reading, has himself received a cease-and-desist letter from the state health department. A legalization proponent for many years, Downing estimates that his company currently provides marijuana to more than 1,000 patients.
Several other patients of Yankee Care Givers have also received letters from the health department. Although the letters made it clear that caregivers – and not the patients – were in violation of state marijuana laws, patients were nevertheless required to find a new caregiver or to ascertain that they no longer need the services of a caregiver. In essence, the law states that legitimate patients should either find a new caregiver, or cease to use medical marijuana entirely.
Unsurprisingly, patients that have been eagerly awaiting marijuana legalization have received the news of increased restriction with opposition. Caregivers on the receiving end of the sanctions have also not taken well to the crackdown, referring to the policy as a non-“patient-centered” approach. Objections have also been raised with regard to current laws that limit caregivers to providing only 10 ounces of marijuana per patient, which is meant to last for up to 60 days.