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Voters to decide on medical use of marijuana.

Byline: Scott J. Croteau

Voters will decide on Election Day whether to make Massachusetts the 17th state in the country to allow medical marijuana use for patients meeting certain conditions.

Proponents of Question 3 contend the ballot question and passage of the proposed law would help people suffering from various diseases cope with pain and help those for whom marijuana seems to provide relief.

Those in opposition fear there are too many loopholes in the proposed law and its passage would allow more marijuana abuse and cause crime to hit areas where dispensaries are located.

Allison Jones, a 59-year-old Rutland woman and former nurse, suffered severe injuries in 2010 when, as a Good Samaritan, she rushed to help someone involved in an accident in Connecticut.

A van lost traction on black ice and ended up landing on top of Ms. Jones. She has undergone multiple surgeries and struggled to handle physical pain. An advocate of medical marijuana, Ms. Jones believes it could help certain people more than prescribed medications.

"It's completely changed my life," she said "I was depressed and in chronic pain and I was taking prescribed narcotics that didn't control the pain. Medical marijuana has the potential to stop people's suffering. I'm not saying it is the answer for everybody, but it is the answer for me."

Ms. Jones has been using marijuana for her pain for about six months, she said.

The proposed law would allow patients to have in their possession up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for a medicinal reason. The state Department of Public Health would decide the amount. Also in the proposed law would be the ability for patients or their caregivers to grow marijuana for a patient's use.

A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said allowing people to grow their own marijuana flies in the face of cultivation and distribution laws.

The proposed law would not supersede state law on marijuana, the language states.

Mr. Sampson believes people not authorized to have medical marijuana will still get their hands on it through this proposed law.

"One of our association's biggest concerns is that we see a lot of loopholes in the way this law is worded," he said. "We believe that the proper way to evaluate this legislation is to have the Legislature do it as a regular bill so there is a fair opportunity to vet out the differences in intent versus what will actually happen if this law is enacted. We believe there are going to be many unintended consequences."

The former Shrewsbury police chief also believes the proposed law will give free reign to prescribe marijuana for several reasons. He is also concerned there is no expiration date on the certificates to have medical marijuana.

Further adding to Mr. Sampson's concerns are the known problems with crime around dispensaries in other states.

Matt J. Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said the hallmark of the proposed law is limiting treatment centers - something other states did not do.

"We looked at all the best practices and lessons learned from other states," he said.

There are clinical studies that show patients can use medical marijuana for pain relief, Mr. Allen said. Misuse can be tracked and there are penalties involved.

The proposed law would create a new felony - five years for those fraudulently using medical marijuana for distribution, Mr. Allen said.

Dr. James B. Broadhurst, a Worcester physician and chairman of Vote No on Question 3, believes the proposed law allows for too many potential prescriptions, based on the wording.

"What that really means is anything goes," he said. "Essentially, it is a pass to legalization."

There is also no ability for a doctor to re-evaluate a patient's need because of the lack of limitation on the certificate. A 13-year-old with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder could receive a prescription and have marijuana for life, he said.

There are also concerns about addiction, the doctor adds.

"Marijuana is a substance that is subject to addiction," Dr. Broadhurst said. "About one in 10 people who try it become addicted to it. In young people it is about one in six."

Proponents say there are no death or withdrawal issues from marijuana use, but the doctor argues there are still issues that could cause problems to families and communities. Some other states are citing issues of school truancy and poor school performance along with decreasing home values near dispensaries.

"There is nothing in the law that will prevent Massachusetts from suffering in the same way," he said.


CUTLINE: (PHOTO) Dr. Broadhurst (MAP) National medical marijuana laws

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 31, 2012
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