At today’s Massachusetts Public Health Council meeting, Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, announced sweeping changes to the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Program in Massachusetts. The changes follow what Dr. Bharel described as a “top to bottom” review of the application process that has been plagued with difficulties.  The revisions shift the focus of the application process from its current form, which has followed a competitive procurement model, to a licensure focus similar to other health care facilities.   The revised application process will launch on May 15, 2015, and will feature a rolling basis application process. The application review will include a sharp focus on security issues and the background of those involved in the proposed dispensary.  Dr. Bharel noted that this shift will result in a more efficient, straightforward application process and that DPH will strive to make the process more straightforward and more transparent. No regulatory changes are needed, as the changes affect DPH’s process only.

Starting today, DPH will post and update the status of dispensaries in the approval and development “pipeline,” and the number of registered and certified patients on its website.  Those applicants with pending applications will not need to reapply.  DPH will clarify the process to resubmit applications that were previously rejected.

Public Health Council member Harold Cox (Associate Dean of Public Health Practice, Boston University School of Public Health) addressed ongoing legalization efforts – marijuana is legal in four states and the District of Columbia – and suggested that DPH should be proactive in understanding what is happening in those states and how potential legalization would affect Massachusetts’ program.  Public Health Council member Dr. Michele David expressed concern regarding the packaging of marijuana edibles, particularly candy, that may look like ordinary candy to children.

The DPH press release is available here.