For years, as an editorialist, I supported the medical use of marijuana. I anguished when a cancer-stricken friend, deathly ill from the side effects of chemotherapy, was afraid to smoke pot because it was illegal, notwithstanding reports that doing so could significantly alleviate her symptoms. That’s just not fair. Access to marijuana for medical purposes – whether cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, MS, ALS or other serious diseases – was a no-brainer.
In some respects, it still is. But the reality is more complex than the concept. I do have concerns about Massachusetts going the way of California if voters approve Question 3, which they seem poised to do by a two-to-one margin. Under the referendum, patients could have up to 60 days’ supply for their personal medical use, if certified by a doctor with “a bona fide physician-patient relationship.” The supplier would be a non-profit treatment center regulated by the Department of Public Health. So far, so good.
I’m concerned about the referendum’s broad language, such as permitting pot for “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.” Consider the situation in California, which has had a medical marijuana law since 1996. The father of a young man who lives in California describes how his son can go to the beach, where a physician is hanging out with his prescription pads. The imminent purchaser need only describe what’s ailing him – anxiety, for example – and a scrip is his. That would hardly qualify as a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” or, for that matter, a proof of a medical condition warranting the “medication.”
Today’s New York Times describes the medical uses in Los Angeles as “a farce.” There are reportedly more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks in the City of Angels, possibly up to 1000. One middle class neighborhood has 15 dispensaries within a mile and a half of its commercial center. More reasonably, the Massachusetts referendum would issue permits for up to 35 non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers, with at least one and not more than five in each county.
Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, and they don’t seem to be going to hell in a hand basket. Their laws seem to be more specific regarding covered conditions and the approvals needed to add a condition to the list. Oregon, for example, amended its original 1998 medical marijuana law to permit use for the agitation associated with certain Alzheimer’s patients. I wish the proposed Massachusetts law had erred on the side of being narrowly drawn.
Those in real medical need have waited in vain for years for the legislature to act postively on this issue. Referendum opponents have rightfuly noted loopholes. That said, I’m tilting toward yes on 3, with the belief that, given the number of politicians and law enforcement officials who oppose the referendum, it shouldn’t be difficult to get thoughtful refining language written into the law next year. I’d welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.