CONCORD — State health officials will not issue identification cards to eligible recipients of legal medical marijuana until alternative treatment centers open to dispense the drug next year.
The state Attorney General’s Office recommended waiting until the centers, which will grow, process and sell the marijuana, are open.
The state hasn’t authorized any entity other than these yet-to-be established centers to legally dispense the drug, so ID cards are not necessary, according to a legal opinion from Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown and Frank Fredericks, an attorney in that office.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which is drafting rules on handling medical marijuana, asked for the legal opinion. HHS has until July 23 to approve rules, including the application process for people to receive the ID cards to obtain up to 2 ounces of marijuana for severe pain and serious illnesses.
Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said those using marijuana now for medical reasons would be protected from prosecution as soon as the state issues them a card.
“We’re talking about a few hundred people who ... already are using and want the legal protection,” Simon said.
Mike Holt, rules coordinator for HHS, said IDs could have been issued as soon as this summer, but the department will abide by the legal opinion.
The deadline to issue licenses for between two and four alternative treatment centers is Jan. 23, 2015.
Holt said he couldn’t estimate when the centers would become operational.
Simon said it would be at least the summer 2015.
HHS has 15 days to make a decision on granting a card once a complete application is submitted, Holt said. It then has five days to issue the card.