Often facing long drives to the nearest medical marijuana dispensary, some patients with debilitating conditions are opting for home delivery.
“It’s something that patients say they really want,” said Nichole Snow, a Salem resident and president of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance. “Many patients are homebound, really ill or don’t have a caregiver. A long trip is not practical because they’re in too much pain and don’t want to expose themselves to more illness.”
The state Department of Public Health, which oversees the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, has approved five dispensaries to conduct home deliveries to patients. They are Central Ave. Compassionate Care of Ayer, In Good Health of Brockton, Sage Naturals of Cambridge, Patriot Care of Lowell and Garden Remedies of Newton. The approval authorizes the dispensaries to deliver to registered patients anywhere in the state.
No other dispensaries currently have pending applications to conduct medical marijuana deliveries, a DPH spokeswoman said.
This spring, In Good Health became the first Massachusetts dispensary to offer home delivery, serving every region of Massachusetts except for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Garden Remedies just launched its home delivery service in late September. The Newton-based dispensary currently only delivers to patients in Worcester County.
“There are no dispensaries there currently,” said Dr. Karen Munkacy, a physician and president and CEO of Garden Remedies. “We have about 200 patients who drive from Worcester to Newton. That’s about a two-hour round trip. A lot of our patients are very ill, and it’s hard for them to drive that distance on a regular basis.”
The dispensary currently sees about 1,000 patients each week, she said. Patients, she said, travel from across the state for specialty products such as marijuana vape pens and cannabis-infused edibles. Munkacy hasn’t seen a demand for local deliveries in the Newton area.
Massachusetts law requires that patients register with the state before they’re allowed to access products from a medical marijuana dispensary. They must have certification from a doctor indicating they suffer from a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or hepatitis C or another debilitating condition as determined by a physician.
According to the DPH, there are more than 40,000 active registered medical marijuana patients statewide, and 12 operational dispensaries.
Munkacy became a medical marijuana advocate after surviving breast cancer treatment and living with severe nausea during chemotherapy. Other cancer survivors, she said, told her marijuana was the only thing that seemed to help them during chemotherapy treatments.
“After I was cured, it haunted me that people who were very ill had to choose between breaking the law or suffering,” she said.
The DPH has strict regulations for medical marijuana delivery services. Patients must receive the deliveries in person and show a valid medical marijuana card. The dispensaries are required to keep detailed delivery manifests and send at least two employees on each delivery. There must be an employee in the delivery vehicle at all times marijuana products are present.
The state does not allow personal vehicles to be used for delivery. All delivery vehicles are required to contain a GPS tracker that is not an easily removable mobile device.
“Our vehicles are totally unmarked, and they don’t look like each other,” Munkacy said. “The security features are significant, but I was told by our head of security not to discuss them. Do we take every safety precaution possible? Absolutely.”
Massachusetts voters last November approved an initiative to legalize the sale and adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes. The first recreational pot dispensaries could open next year. Unlike medical marijuana, which is sold tax-free, recreational cannabis sales will be subject to up to 20 percent in taxes.
Voters approved medical marijuana in 2012, but the first dispensary didn’t open until more than three years later as the state hit a series of delays in creating the regulatory framework for the new industry.