A Smoky Path For Medical Marijuana In Mass.

BOSTON — Massachusetts will soon become the 18th state in the nation to make marijuana legal for patients with a debilitating disease. On Tuesday, a strong majority, 63 percent of voters, approved the medical marijuana ballot question.

Many who voted “yes” Tuesday shared the sentiments of Claire Winthrop, from Sharon.

“I just think it’s ridiculous not to allow medical use of marijuana,” Winthrop said. Her husband, David, standing nearby, nodded in agreement.

Now, the task of turning the ballot question into law is largely in the hands of the state Department of Public Health. Here’s a short timeline:

- The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2013.

- The department will then have 120 days to clarify some key sections, including: Just what is a 60-day supply of marijuana? And, who will qualify to run the 35 marijuana dispensaries that are supposed to be up and running by the end of next year.

One thing is certain: The dispensaries will not be welcome in every city and town.

“We do not want these dispensaries in the town of Wakefield,” said Stephen Maio, the town administrator. The question is not settled. Wakefield residents will consider a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries at town meeting next week. Maio says town leaders will urge passage of the ban because they’re concerned that medical marijuana will increase drug use overall.

And, Maio said, “We feel there are incidents of crime around these facilities, that they bring down property values. We don’t have a medical facility where one of these might be convenient after you get your treatment. We just felt that this was not what we wanted to have in Wakefield.”

One idea afloat on Beacon Hill is a six-month delay of the law so that cities and towns would have time to look at the effects of medical marijuana. The Massachusetts Municipal Association supports the delay.

Law enforcement leaders are also hoping lawmakers will clarify parts of the law. Wayne Sampson, the director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, says police aren’t sure who will oversee the dispensaries and enforce the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

“We believe that the petition was written in a way that’s going to make it very difficult for the state to set regulations, such as inspections,” Sampson said. “And we believe that the Legislature is going to have to step in to clarify some of the uncertainties.”

Then there’s the question of which doctors will sign certificates allowing patients to buy marijuana. The Massachusetts Medical Society is urging doctors to refrain from authorizing marijuana use. These certificates, by the way, are not prescriptions, and insurance does not cover the use of medical marijuana because, in part, it is still illegal under federal law.

In Rhode Island, medical marijuana dispensaries were authorized in 2009, but none exist yet. JoAnne Leppanen, director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, says supporters of the law in Massachusetts must remain vigilant.

“It has been a bit of a process in Rhode Island,” Leppanen said, “and we have had to stay on top of it. If the focus is on the patients, then everything else will come into place.”

There are lots of details ahead: Will the state tax marijuana even though it doesn’t tax prescription drugs? Will employers allow workers to smoke or otherwise ingest marijuana on the job? Will medical marijuana be authorized for kids?

Gov. Deval Patrick, who expressed some concerns about the ballot question, said Wednesday that Massachusetts will “learn as we go” with medical marijuana, as the state has in other areas of health care reform.

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  • Buttrboy

    “Learn as we go” is Deval Patrick’s motto in office: it seems he doesn’t know much of anything by his comments. I know that he is a politician but if this guy were any more vague on taking any meaningful stance he’d be invisible.
    To the previous comment, this is a plant, not a drug in the sense of more dangerous, more addictive, synthetic opiate-based drugs.
    It effects everyone differently and has been shown to increase appetite and reduce nausea in many studies across the world. The people of MA (and RI) voted this in for a reason, not to have it delayed by some conservative politicians in the minority. Studies in Amsterdam have shown no increase in drug use(actually, they have a lower use rate than the U.S.) and practice a much more lenient policy that tolerates recreational use. Alcohol was more popular during prohibition…as was cocaine due to prohibition. Stop telling people what is right or not right for them- it is their boy and if ingesting a naturally growing plant can soothe their day to day suffering, by golly let them have access to it without fearing the law.

  • John Y.

    Have double-blind medical studies been made on the effectiveness of Marijuana in pain and nausea relief? If so, for which illnesses? This is a DRUG after all.
    Note: for my wife during chemotherapy it did NOTHING. Perhaps it is effective in other cases.

    • Buttrboy

      “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”(1)
      – Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General under President Clinton• More than 6,500 reports and journal articles support the use of cannabis as medicine, including studies commissioned by the US government, which currently does not support legalization.(6)

      • “Eighty-five percent of the BPG [Berkeley Patients Group] sample reported that cannabis has much less adverse side effects than their prescription medications. Additionally, the top two reasons listed by participants as reasons for substituting cannabis for one of the substances previously mentioned were less adverse side effects from cannabis (65%) and better symptom management from cannabis (57.4%).”(7)
      • The DEA’s Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young: “In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume.”(8)
      • In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, cannabis was effective in reducing pain and sleep disturbance in patients with multiple sclerosis.(9) Other studies have produced similar results, particularly proving the efficacy of marijuana in treating spasticity and pain.(10)
      • Marijuana has been shown to have anti-oxidant properties and actually inhibits the growth of tumors.(11)
      • “Smoked cannabis was well tolerated and effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy.”(12)
      • There is evidence that cannabis use among Hepatitis C patients who are undergoing treatment has been beneficial by helping them maintain adherence to the challenging medication regiment.(13)
      • Numerous public health organizations support the medical use of cannabis, including the AIDS Action Council (1996), the American Academy of Family Physicians (1995), the American Academy of HIV Medicine (2003), the American Cancer Society (1997), the American College of Physicians (2008), the American Medical Association (2009), the American Nurses Association (2003), the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (1999), the American Public Health Association (1994), the California Medical Association (1997), Crescent Alliance Self-Help for Sickle Cell (1999), the Federation of American Scientists (1994), the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (1995), the Institute of Medicine (1999), Kaiser Permanente (1997), the Lymphoma Foundation of America (1997), the Multiple Sclerosis California Action Network (1996), the National Association for Public Health Policy (1998), the National Association of People With AIDS (1992), the National Institute of Health (1997), among many others.

  • Skeptical