Medical Marijuana for Health Care Professionals:

What You Need to Know 


The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana program will be the safest and most secure system in the country when implementation is complete.  The medical marijuana law and accompanying regulations establish extensive controls not seen in other states including a cap of 35 on the number dispensaries that will be permitted to operate, educational requirements for doctors who issue recommendations, and mandatory registration of patients and their recommending physicians.


For now doctors who are licensed in Massachusetts may write a recommendation that will protect a patient from prosecution from local and state law enforcement for possession of a limited amount of medical marijuana.  Patients may also cultivate their own medicine or appoint a caregiver to do so for them.  Patients must have a medical marijuana recommendation to access dispensaries when they open.

Sometime over the next several months, written recommendations will no longer be valid because the state will create an online registration system.  Doctors will be required to register on the system and use it to submit information about their medical marijuana patients.  The state will record this information and then issue the patients a medical marijuana identification card.  This centralized information system will help law enforcement easily determine if patients’ recommendations are legitimate while giving dispensaries an easy way to track sales. Recommendations expire after one year, or a after a shorter period if specified by the recommending physician.

Timeline (tentative):

Now: Doctors may issue written recommendations for patients.

Between 14 and 35 dispensaries receive registrations to operate and can begin construction and cultivation.

Spring or Summer 2014:  The state’s online registration system begins operation, and written recommendations are no longer valid.  Doctors must register with the state and use the on-line system to issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Dispensary doors open and many patients gain safe access.  Patients who wish to continue or begin cultivating medicine must apply to the state for a “hardship” registration.

July 2014:  Doctors issuing recommendations must complete 2 Category 1 professional development credits (CMEs) related to medical marijuana this date.

Does medical marijuana have to be smoked?

No.  It can be administered in a tincture or through a vaporizer that releases the active ingredients of the plant without combustion.

Why isn’t medical marijuana available in pharmacies?

Federal law prohibits marijuana from being distributed through pharmacies

What are the legal repercussions for doctors who write recommendations?

In 2002 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the federal government could not punish, or threaten to punish, a doctor merely for recommending marijuana for medical use.  The court made a distinction between medical marijuana recommendations and prescriptions.[1]


Doctors must have a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” with patients for whom they write recommendations.

“Bona fide physician-patient relationship” means a relationship between a certifying physician, acting in the usual course of his or her professional practice, and a patient in which the physician has conducted a clinical visit, completed and documented a full assessment of the patient’s medical history and current medical condition, has explained the potential benefits and risks of marijuana use, and has a role in the ongoing care and treatment of the patient.

The recommendation must include the patient’s name, specify their debilitating medical condition, and state that in the doctor’s opinion the benefits of medical use of marijuana would outweigh any risks. At this time, there is no standard form for doctors to use. Doctors must include the above information in a letter written on their letterhead.


Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance:

Americans for Safe Access:

Patients out of Time:

Continuing Medical Education:  Medical marijuana CMEs are available right now at the Answer Page

[1] For more information on landmark legal decisions visit Americans for Safe Access at:

Showing 1 reaction

  • commented 2015-04-28 17:19:22 -0400
    Hi -
    I run The Holistic Center in Brighton MA. Just wanted to tell you that our doctor tried to certify a minor with Rett’s syndrome but the DPH will not allow any minors to be certified unless BOTH doctors (the doctor with a sub-specialty in pediatrics and one non-specialist) have registered with the DPH marijuana program. I asked DPH for a list of pediatricians who are registered and they refused to provide me with a list. Looks like no minors will be able to benefit from the program because I know of no pediatricians who are registered with the DPH. Can you assist>?
    Rick Comenzo for Dr. Thomas Wong