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Massachusetts public health chief to step down after finalizing regulations for medical marijuana

Dr. Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), will step down in May after finalizing regulations for medical marijuana, reports The Associated Press. Smith faced a number of challenges during her short tenure, including a nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak that was linked to a Framingham compounding pharmacy.

In an email obtained by, Dr. Smith told her staff that “the last several months have been difficult for DPH and for those of us that care deeply about this agency’s work in public health.” Though she offered no specific reason for leaving, she said that she would be taking some time to “catch [her] breath” before moving on to her next role.

Dr. Smith became interim Massachusetts public health chief after the resignation of John Auerbach amid the investigation of the mishandling of drug evidence by a chemist at the Mass. DPH’s former drug lab.

Dr. Smith will step down on May 10, two days after a final vote by regulators on the proposed regulations for medical marijuana use in the Bay State. The DPH Medical Marijuana Work Group recently posted a useful information sheet on the proposed regulations for medical marijuana.

Massachusetts approved the use of medical marijuana on November 6, 2012, making it the 18th state in the nation to do so. The measure became law on January 1, 2013. The law requires that the Mass. DPH issue regulations offering important implementation and policy guidelines by May 2013.

After conducting a comprehensive review of the medical marijuana programs in states where medical marijuana is legal, the Mass. DPH identified several policy recommendations for medical marijuana use that it would like regulators to consider, including municipal oversight and defining a 60-day supply for medical marijuana patients.

Replacing Dr. Smith won’t be easy, but public health secretary John Polanowicz has already started the search process for Dr. Smith’s successor, reports the Boston Globe.