Pubdate: Sat, 29 Dec 2012
Source: Patriot Ledger, The  (Quincy, MA)
Copyright: 2012 GateHouse Media, Inc.
Author: John Keenan
Note: John F. Keenan is the state senator representing the Norfolk 
and Plymouth District. He chairs the Senate's Joint Committee on 
Mental Health and Substance Abuse.


Over the past several weeks, I have spoken with hundreds of voters
regarding the issue of medical marijuana, many of whom voted "Yes" on
Question 3, all of whom now believe the law is vague and subject to

They worry that marijuana will become readily available to those
without legitimate medical needs, yet not comfortably accessible by
those who may benefit from its medical use. All have expressed a
desire to ease the suffering of those with debilitating conditions,
but want to do so in a responsible, rational manner.

As passed, Question 3 is very broad. It makes marijuana available to
those with specific illnesses like cancer, but also makes it available
for other conditions as determined by physicians. This provision opens
the door for a few unscrupulous doctors to certify use for such things
as anxiety and non-specific pain. In Colorado, for instance, 94
percent of those with medical marijuana cards have them for the
treatment of "pain," in the general sense, not tied specifically to

Question 3 does not require a physical examination by a physician or a
prescription. After receiving a certification from a doctor, who
doesn't even have to be from Massachusetts, a person gets a
"registration card" for life, allowing possession of a 60-day supply
of marijuana, obtained at dispensaries that likely will be, as in
other states, nothing more than storefronts selling all types of
marijuana products, including cookies, candies and drinks.

The Question 3 law is full of many other loopholes. There are no
restrictions or notification requirements for use by minors.
Caregivers will have access to unrestricted amounts of marijuana if
serving multiple patients. Local officials fear they won't have
licensing or zoning controls over dispensaries and grow operations.
And, as of Jan. 1, there will be no specific controls on home grown
operations and on medical marijuana possession amounts until
regulations are passed.

Also, the Department of Public Health, to the limited extent allowed
under the law, will be responsible for the costly regulation and
oversight of the program, even while embroiled in the compounding and
drug testing lab controversies.

Finally, the new law appears to run afoul of the federal controlled
substances law.

Common sense, experiences in other states, and the law itself, tells
us that the new law is not about compassion for those with legitimate
medical needs, but rather is about a whole new industry already
attracting lawyers and other players from across the country.

So, what next? First, a nine-month freeze on the effective date of the
law should be implemented. At the very least, this will let the state
receive guidance from the federal government and allow cities and
towns time to examine and address local concerns.

Second, alternatives should be considered. Notwithstanding conflicts
with federal law, a better program would satisfy the voters' expressed
desire to make marijuana comfortably available to those who may have a
legitimate medical need, and yet not burden communities, guard against
it becoming an illicit source of marijuana, and protect against those
seeking ready profit.

Such a program would require parental consent and supervision for
minors. It would require certification only from a patient's
Massachusetts doctor after a thorough examination and consultation. It
would limit marijuana use only for listed, specific conditions, and
establish a process to add conditions to that list.

Marijuana, like other controlled substances used in medical treatment,
would be subject to the state's existing Prescription Monitoring
Program, and would be dispensed only by prescriptions written on
tamper-resistant forms.

It would create an effective and safe distribution network that
eliminates home cultivation and the placement of retail dispensaries
in local communities. It would establish a schedule of fees to offset
the costs of the program, and establish a trust fund to ensure revenue
is reserved for this purpose. And, finally, it would affirm the
authority of municipalities to regulate dispensaries.

Massachusetts should learn from the experiences of other states and
proceed with caution. In doing so, it could find itself in the unique
position of being able to fulfill the expressed will of its voters by
implementing a responsible and rational medical marijuana program.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D