Your Legal Rights as a Medical Marijuana Patient

Numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits of medical marijuana.  It is a safe and effective method of stimulating appetite and managing chronic pain.  It is non-invasive, is relatively economical, and is free from dangerous interactions with prescription drugs.  It can be used by juvenile and adult patients suffering from many kinds of severe medical conditions, and has helped countless patients attain a better quality of life.  Yet despite all of these potential benefits, there is still one major factor that stops many people from getting the care and relief they need: concerns about the law.

As of 2012, medical Cannabis is legal in Massachusetts under the Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.  Furthermore, recreational possession in small amounts (one ounce or less) has been decriminalized in Massachusetts since 2008.  However, despite these legal protections, marijuana remains an illegal scheduled substance at the federal level, leading to fear and confusion about its medical use and possession.

No one should have to suffer unnecessarily – especially not because of myths about Cannabis, media fear-mongering, and the propagation of downright false information.  To help encourage hesitant patients to seek the care they need and deserve, we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand your legal rights as a Massachusetts medical marijuana patient.  If you have any questions at all about how medical Cannabis could help you manage your symptoms, please do not hesitate to call Inhale MD at (617) 477-8886 to set up a private consultation with Dr. Tishler.

health medical benefits cannabis thc

Can I Be Arrested for Having Medical Marijuana? How Much Can I Possess?

Before we start discussing Cannabis patients’ legal rights, it’s important to emphasize that this article does not constitute formal legal advice.  You should always contact an attorney if you have any questions about criminal charges or the laws pertaining to medical marijuana in other jurisdictions outside the state of Massachusetts.  Many attorneys will give free initial consultations.

That being said, these basic pointers can help give you a  clearer idea of your rights – and responsibilities – as a prospective or currently registered marijuana patient.

For most people, the most pressing question is whether they can be arrested for having medical marijuana on their person.  In many cases, the answer is no.  As stated by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) in its April 2015 Guid[e] for Law Enforcement Regarding the Medical Use of Marijuana, “Chapter 369 and the DPH regulations allow a registered patient, and their registered caregiver to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana with the certification of a Massachusetts licensed physician.”

Chapter 369 itself – also known as the  Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana – could not be clearer when it makes the following statement:

The citizens of Massachusetts intend that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients, physicians and health care professionals, personal caregivers for patients, or medical marijuana treatment center agents for the medical use of marijuana [as defined by the Act].

Unfortunately, arrests still can and do occur, as marijuana remains illegal under federal law.  However, like police departments in many other states and cities which have decriminalized or legalized marijuana on a local level, Massachusetts law enforcement typically takes a lenient approach.

According to Jack Collins, a former Assistant District Attorney who now serves as general counsel for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the Association instructs officers to “walk away” from potential arrests as long as the patient (1) has proper certification, and (2) has less than 10 ounces of Cannabis.  In the words of State Police Colonel Timothy Alben, “Police were not meant to be judges on the side of the road.”

Federal prosecution is generally reserved for very serious federal felony crimes, such as mail and wire fraud or money laundering.  As long as you have legitimate documentation from the Department of Public Health (DPH), and do not exceed the 60-day (10 ounce) maximum supply, you are protected by Massachusetts state law.  Additionally, certain provisions of the federal spending bill passed by Congress in 2014 prohibit the Department of Justice and DEA from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana cases.

Again, you should consult with an attorney if you have concerns about criminal charges or a criminal investigation.

Police Officer Arresting Young Man

What Sort of Identification Do I Need? Do I Have to Register as a Patient?

As the previous section makes clear, it is extremely important to always keep your authorization documents in your purse or wallet where they can be immediately accessed.  If the worst occurs and you are stopped by a police officer, you will be able to show them certification proving that you are a registered medical marijuana patient.  The 2015 law enforcement guidelines noted above contain pictures of various “Program ID” cards, including cards for patients, caregivers, and RMD (Registered Marijuana Dispensary) agents.

As we discussed at length in our guide to registering for a Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Card, you’ll need to go through the registration process before you can receive a card.  You will not be able register until you’ve obtained an online recommendation from a licensed physician, so talk to your doctor about medical marijuana to get started.

Am I Allowed to Sell or Grow Cannabis in Massachusetts?

As defined by Chapter 369(2)(I), the concept of “medical use of marijuana” extends beyond actual use.  It also includes, among other actions, the cultivation (growing) of marijuana.

However, only certain patients and caregivers are permitted to grow their own medical marijuana, and must first obtain appropriate authorization from the DPH.  A “caregiver” is legally defined as “a person who is at least 21 years old who has agreed to assist with a qualifying patient’s medical use of marijuana.”  Caregivers must have a 1:1 patient ratio: one patient, one caregiver, no exceptions.  Caregivers absolutely cannot help more than one patient.  This means all online “caregivers” are illegal drug dealers in disguise and must be avoided be patients.

You or your caregiver may grow Cannabis for your medical use only if “[your] access to a medical treatment center is limited by verified financial hardship, a physical incapacity to access reasonable transportation, or the lack of a treatment center within a reasonable distance of the patient’s residence.”  If any of statements apply to you, you must apply for hardship cultivation registration.

If you are approved and become formally registered, you (or your caregiver) may grow “a limited number of plants, sufficient to maintain a 60-day supply of marijuana… only in an enclosed, locked facility.”  Once again, a 60-day supply is equivalent to 10 ounces total.  Even if you are registered for cultivation, you may not grow more than a 60-day supply.  You also may not grow marijuana in a field, your garden, or your backyard, hence the emphasis on an “enclosed, locked facility.”  If you exceed the cultivation limits permitted by Chapter 369, law enforcement may become involved.

Finally, you are not permitted, under any circumstances, to sell or gift your medical marijuana to other people, even if the recipient is also a qualified Cannabis patient.

Supreme Court Decision: New Drug Testing Laws for Colorado Employees

Colorado is well known for its lenient marijuana laws.  In fact, Colorado has some of the most relaxed Cannabis laws in the entire country: it is perfectly legal for adult residents to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal recreational use.  Yet in June of 2015, even the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that, in accordance with federal law, employers can fire employees who legally use marijuana in accordance with state laws.  Leaving little room for interpretation, the court ruled decisively that “employees who engage in an activity such as medical marijuana use that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”

For the time being, this ruling affects only Colorado residents, which means Massachusetts Cannabis patients have no cause for alarm – yet.  Unfortunately, this ruling has the potential to open doors for cases in other states (like Massachusetts) where marijuana has already been legalized or decriminalized for medical and/or recreational purposes.

Moreover, no federal employees are permitted to use marijuana for recreational or even medical purposes, regardless of which state they live in.  Even if state law permits you to use medical marijuana, you can still be legally terminated from your job, as marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I substance under federal law.

Current or prospective Cannabis patients who are currently employed should read their employee handbooks and company policies carefully for any clauses or conditions which are impacted by the use of medical marijuana.  While Chapter 369 makes numerous allowances for the use and cultivation of Cannabis, the Act does not protect employees who use marijuana while on the job from being terminated.

As stated under Chapter 369(7)(D), “Nothing in this law requires any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any place of employment… or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”  The Act does not include any language with regard to drug testing, in an employment context or otherwise.

Medical Cannabis can help to alleviate the symptoms of conditions including but not limited to chronic pain, arthritis, ALS, MS, chronic insomnia, cancer, glaucoma, depression, anxiety, and HIV/AIDS. To discuss whether medical marijuana could be a suitable treatment option for you, call Inhale MD at (617) 477-8886 today.

MA specifically qualified conditions:

And other debilitating conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician, which may include:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Insomnia
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression