As medical cannabis slowly becomes legal (nearly half of the states in the country have some form of medical marijuana legislation on the books), more folks are trying to figure out the best way to navigate the various systems that will allow them to access it. What is the process like? Is it easy? Hard? Expensive? Join me as I share my own journey figuring out Massachusetts's path to being legally certified as a medical marijuana patient.
In the spring of 2015, my primary care provider and I decided that I could benefit from medicinal marijuana. I was already on a regimen of daily traditional medication and was looking to see if I could do something to lower my dose without impacting my health and well-being. Medical cannabis seemed like the perfect choice. However, my provider was part of a larger group practice with multiple locations, and they were only allowing one doctor per individual location to sign off on medical marijuana requests. The prescribing doctor in my particular location was not my own, so it would have required transferring care to a new doctor (despite me having a really great relationship with my current one) and waiting up to six months for a new patient appointment with him before anything could be done.
I didn't want to wait.
Instead, I ended up going to see a doctor who specializes in medical cannabis. At my own provider's encouragement, I filled out the 10-page application form all prospective patients must complete before even scheduling an appointment. And then I waited. A couple of weeks later I received a call and was able to set up an appointment, which cost me $200 out of pocket.
I met with the doctor and she was truly wonderful. She had clearly taken the time to review my chart and listen to me. It was obvious that she had many patients to attend to (in fact, her practice is no longer able to accept new patients!), but she gave me her full attention and walked me through the next few steps. She inputted some information to the state on her end, and then gave me a code to use for when I began the registration process on my end. So far, so good. Pricey, but not too difficult.
The next step was actually applying. There is a paper process I could have done but it’s much lengthier and time-consuming than the online one. So, I hopped onto the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website for what they assured me would be the "fastest and most convenient way to register."
And, to be honest, it wasn't all that difficult, but it does require somebody to have either a scanner or a mobile device to submit copies of both a valid form of identification (I went with my license) and a valid photograph. The application fee isn't too bad ($50) and is competitive with what other states are charging. And, like many other states, Massachusetts has exemptions for those struggling with financial hardships.
Once my application was completed, I submitted and hoped for the best. While I have yet to hear of anyone I know personally being rejected after applying, it is still a possibility. There is also a waiting period to consider. That varies on the amount of applications the state has to slog through. In my case, I applied on Sept. 24 and was approved Oct. 14.
Then it was off to a dispensary!
However, in Massachusetts, there are currently four dispensaries in the entire state (there were only three open when I first got my card!). Luckily for me, one of them happened to be 10 minutes from my home, but it made me wonder about all the other folks who needed access to this medicine. Did they have the time, money, and ability to make a two- or three-hour trip to a dispensary?
My card is good for a year, but I've been told that I should begin the renewal process a month or two in advance, to avoid any long waiting time. This will require a $100 follow-up at the doctor I saw last year, as well as another $50 fee to the state.
But it will be worth it.