(NECN: Jennifer Eagan) - Brian grows marijuana plants in the basement of his home north of Boston. He asked us to conceal his identity and not use his real name even though what Brian is doing is legal under Massachusetts law.
The budding medical marijuana industry is largely unregulated as the Department of Public Health is only now working on a set of rules.
In the meantime, with a doctor's written recommendation patients or a person caring for a patient can grow their own marijuana and there is no current limit on how many plants one person can raise. Brian is the caregiver for two people. "One of them suffers from PTSD, the other suffers from hepatitis," Brian said.
While marijuana is considered an illegal drug by the federal government, it is now allowed under Massachusetts state law for medical purposes. Still, many doctors in Massachusetts remain hesitant to sign off on cannabis for their patients.
A doctor's office in Framingham has become the destination of many seeking a medical marijuana recommendation. Dr. Joseph Andrews works for CannaMed, a California based medical marijuana company which opened up shop in January. Patients who bring in their medical records with a diagnosis from a previous doctor will likely get a written recommendation, which for now is their license to grow and possess marijuana in the Bay State. Dr. Andrews say of the hundreds of patients he has seen so far, most get the recommendation.
"It is unusual if they don't," he said.
CannaMed operates with the sole purpose of writing recommendations for medical marijuana, but any doctor can do so right now. Still, right now there is no way of knowing how many recommendations have been written, which doctors are writing them or who is growing marijuana because for now no one is keeping track. "We don't have the system up and running yet," said DPH interim commissioner Dr. Lauren Smith.
The Department of Public Health's regulations for medical marijuana are supposed to be complete by May 1, but DPH is backing off on that promise. They now say they will try and come as close to that deadline as possible. Only when the regulations are set will with agency begin documenting who has medical marijuana. "We are really building a program from scratch. That takes time to do that right and to have the systems in place to do that tracking," said Dr. Smith.
One of CannaMed's head doctors, Dr. Peter Shrier, was charged in California with medicaid fraud involving a pregnancy clinic five years ago before he worked for CannaMed. In a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and started serving a one year jail sentence last Thursday. He also owes $316,000 in restitution. Until last month, he had been consulting with workers in CannaMed's Framingham office where more than 300 people have received recommendations.
State Senator John F. Keenan says the regulations have left things confusing in this new industry. "I use the phrase, it's a bit of the wild, wild west because there really aren't any rules in place at this point," Keenan said.
In spite of a system that is still hazy, people like "Brian " say they are growing something that eases pain.