What we know about the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts

Tufts Health Care says it has signed a deal with the state to use medical marijuana to treat people with chronic pain.

The health care system will begin administering the drug next month and will begin dispensing it to people in October, Tufts said in a statement Tuesday.

Tufts has not said how much it is paying to use the drug, but it has a long history of making medical marijuana available for patients with conditions like Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

The Tufts plan, which has not been made public, is the latest sign that the state is moving toward allowing patients to access medical marijuana.

Tuves Health Care also is expected to be the first Massachusetts health care provider to begin using medical marijuana for people with severe illnesses.

“Medical marijuana is a treatment that can help people in the medical community deal with a variety of symptoms, including pain, seizures, muscle spasms and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said David W. Smith, president and CEO of Tufts Medical Care.

While Massachusetts does not have a fully licensed medical marijuana dispensary, medical marijuana dispensaries have been operating in Massachusetts since 2016.

In October, the state began allowing medical marijuana in a pilot program, but some patients are still being denied access because they have no access to a doctor, said Dan J. Bowers, chief medical officer for Tufts.

“We are looking at ways to provide patients with access to medicine without compromising their ability to access treatment, but that will take time,” he said.

Bowers said Tufts is not sure when the health care facility will begin using the drug for people who have suffered from chronic pain, but he said it would be soon.

Tufts said it was also interested in applying for the federal waiver, which allows state health care providers to use federal funds to pay for cannabis testing.

Bower said Tuft Health Care has already received federal funding through the state’s Medicaid program, and he expects the state will soon receive funding through a separate program.

There are currently no plans to allow marijuana to be dispensed in Tufts hospitals, but Bowers said that could change as Tufts begins using medical cannabis.

“As we go forward, we will explore options to bring medical marijuana into Tufts health centers,” he added.

Read more about the Medical Marijuana program: The state’s medical marijuana bill will take effect Jan. 1. 

In the first six months of the year, medical cannabis will be allowed for patients to use in Tuft’s emergency room and on the weekends.

Doctors say that if marijuana is not available, they will likely prescribe it, but there are some patients who will not have access to the medication because of the federal ban on medical marijuana, said Tuber Health Care’s Jaffe.

Jaffe said the state has been able to provide cannabis to patients in the emergency room for a number of reasons.

“Medical marijuana can be used in the ED as a treatment option for a wide range of conditions, including cancer and severe pain,” he wrote in an email.

If marijuana is taken to relieve pain, for example, it may relieve symptoms of a wide variety of conditions including migraines, migraineuritis, chronic pain and Crohn sclerosing cholangitis, which can lead to severe infections, he added, citing research.

A report released by the state Department of Public Health found that more than 4,300 patients in Tuber health care have been approved for medical marijuana since it opened its doors in 2017.

Some patients who are in urgent care at Tufts say they would like to use marijuana, but are worried about how the state would enforce its rules.

“If it is allowed, we would have to be on the lookout for people going to the ER to get medical marijuana,” said a patient who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

“I feel like the government has the right to regulate what they want to do with it, and I don’t want that.”

The new law also expands the number of qualifying conditions that qualify for the state-sanctioned use of medical marijuana and makes it easier for the Massachusetts Department of Health to determine which patients will be eligible for the drug.