Massachusetts Medical Society Statement Regarding Approval of Regulations for Medical Marijuana by the Public Health Council

Contact: Richard Gulla
781-434-7101
rgulla@mms.org

From Richard Aghababian, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society 

“The Massachusetts Medical Society, which steadfastly advocates that clinical research needs to be conducted to show the safety and effectiveness of marijuana as medicine, believes the Department of Public Health has done a thoughtful and responsible job overall in developing regulations to implement the medical marijuana law. The final regulations as outlined in a presentation by DPH staff today appear to have taken into account many of our concerns, especially those that call for physician judgment in determining what conditions may qualify and the inclusion of the Prescription Monitoring Program in certifying patients.

However, three changes that the Department made to the original proposals and that were approved today by the Public Health Council do raise concerns.

Confidentiality of Information - We support the intent of the DPH to keep patient specific information confidential but are concerned that treating information on physicians as a public record may lead to patients engaging in ‘doctor shopping’ for the drug or to other undesirable results. We suggest that the DPH in practice keep as much information as possible on physician participation available only to the Board of Registration in Medicine or to other investigative agencies.

Certifying Authority - The approved regulations contain a provision that opens a legal door to allow the state board of nursing to allow nurse practitioners to certify patients. This is contrary to the literal language of the law approved by the citizens of the Commonwealth and appears inconsistent with the specific language of the regulations regarding the seriousness of the debilitating conditions required for physician certification that a patient may benefit from marijuana. If patients are suffering from the diseases listed in the referendum, it is important that these patients be managed by experienced medical teams led by physicians who are knowledgeable in the management of these conditions.
 
Use by Children - We are concerned that the Department has changed the regulations related to children, by allowing the override of the “life-limiting” provision and by changing the definition of “life-limiting illness” from six months to two years. In the absence of well-designed scientific research data, we are concerned about extending the time from six months to two years. The scientific evidence is clear that marijuana use by children is dangerous, as studies have found toxic effects on the still-developing brains of young people.

Overall the Department has done a good job in crafting these regulations. It will now depend on the Board of Registration in Medicine and the Department to carefully oversee the way physicians, dispensaries, caregivers and patients respond to the regulations. It is essential that the Board of Registration in Medicine, in particular, is vigilant to ensure that standards of care in certifying patients for marijuana use are no less stringent than the standards of care for other areas of medical practice.”

The Massachusetts Medical Society, with more than 24,000 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the patients and physicians of Massachusetts. The Society publishes the New England Journal of Medicine, a leading global medical journal and web site, and Journal Watch alerts and newsletters covering 13 specialties. The Society is also a leader in continuing medical education for health care professionals throughout Massachusetts, conducting a variety of medical education programs for physicians and health care professionals. Founded in 1781, MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. For more information please visit www.massmed.org, www.nejm.org, or www.jwatch.org.

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