Statement By Cheryl Bartlett, Public Health Council March 13th 2013
Good morning Commissioner and Members of the Public Health Council.
My name is Cheryl Bartlett and I am the Interim Deputy Commissioner for
the Department of Public Health. I am joined here this morning by Dr.
Madeleine Biondolillo, Director of the Bureau of Health Care Safety and
Quality and by Alison Mehlman, Deputy General Counsel at the
We are here this morning to describe to you the upcoming process for
review and promulgation of regulations establishing a medical marijuana
program at the Department.
In November 2012, Massachusetts residents approved Ballot Question 3, An
Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana with a strong majority -
63 percent of voters across the state voted in favor, and the ballot won a
majority in 349 out of 351 communities across the Commonwealth. This
became Chapter 369 of the Acts of 2012 and went into effect as law on
January 1, 2013. This referendum allows qualifying patients with certain
defined debilitating medical conditions or other conditions as determined by
a patient’s physician to obtain and use marijuana for medicinal use and
requires the Department to issue regulations on the implementation of this
The Department has dedicated itself to engaging a wide-array of
stakeholders and content leaders, including legislators, patient-advocates,
nationally-recognized dispensaries, leading clinician and physician groups,
municipal leadership and law enforcement. The Department has also studied
the 17 other states that have implemented similar laws and learned from
their experiences and best practices. We have actively solicited input from
interested parties in shaping these regulations in an effort to put in place a
system that is right for Massachusetts, ensuring both appropriate access for hose patients and safe and secure communities for our children and
The Department proactively held public “listening sessions” in Worcester,
Roxbury, and Holyoke, to allow patients, interested parties and the public at
large to weigh in on the key issues at stake, helping guide Department staff
in the process of drafting the required regulations.
These listening sessions provided robust commentary on a wide range of
issues that are integral to shaping our regulatory framework. Moreover, the
Department received hundreds of written comments that contributed to our
understanding of key issues. We look forward to sharing those comments as
we continue these discussions in the coming weeks. We have strived for a
transparent and engaging approach to help develop a balanced model that
serves the needs of the Commonwealth.
Turning to process, the voters gave the Department a clear mandate and an
aggressive timeline for promulgation of these regulations. As you know,
developing new regulations is a complex, time-intensive process – and
instituting a framework for medical marijuana has been no different. Given
the mandate to complete these regulations within 120 days of the effective
date of this law – January 1st – we will be approaching our promulgation
process in a similar fashion.
On March 29th, the Department will be filing draft regulations with the
Secretary of State. On that day, we will also be sending the draft regulations
to each of you for review, as well as posting them publicly on the
Department’s website – this will mark the beginning of our official public
comment period as well.
On April 10th, we will be presenting these draft regulations to you, the
Council, for discussion and intensive feedback. We anticipate spending a
significant portion of the scheduled Public Health Council meeting on this
very topic, providing an array of Department staff and experts to ensure we
are able to address your questions and concerns. On April 10th, we will
engage in a comprehensive discussion that will serve as our primary
opportunity to engage in substantive deliberation of these key policy
questions. n April 19th, we will hold a public hearing to receive further comment on
the proposed regulations. And on April 20th, the public comment period will
close. Our team will then work quickly to synthesize public comment, and
where necessary and appropriate, to amend these draft regulations. Finally,
on May 8th, the Department will return to the Council at its regularly
scheduled meeting to present the amended regulations, a summary of
comments received, and to request your vote for final promulgation. Should
the regulations be adopted by the Council that day, they will go into effect
on May 24. This process reflects our thoughtful approach to reviewing key
decision points, our examination of the 17 states with either implemented
medical marijuana programs or draft regulations, and our synthesis of
stakeholder feedback – all while ensuring that the Department complies with
and responds to the clear voter mandate.
In closing, we at the Department appreciate your understanding of this
timeframe. In addition to respecting the instruction of the voters, we feel it is
important to put forward these regulations into the public domain as quickly
as possible, so as to allow prospective medical marijuana treatment center
applicants sufficient time to study our regulations prior to engaging in a
competitive application process this summer and fall.
Today, we will not discuss the key policy themes of these regulations, but
we look forward to doing so on April 10. Dr. Biondolillo and I are happy to
take any of your questions regarding this process.