Questions Raised About Question 3: Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative

October 8, 2012

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Members of SSDP promoting Question 3 in the GSU Link. | Photo by KC Mackey

On November 6, Massachusetts voters will answer Question 3: Should the state of Massachusetts legalize medical marijuana? The state statute known as the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative reads as follows:

“A YES VOTE would enact the proposed law eliminating state criminal and civil penalties related to the medical use of marijuana, allowing patients meeting certain conditions to obtain marijuana produced and distributed by new state-regulated centers or, in specific hardship cases, to grow marijuana for their own use.

A NO VOTE would make no change in existing laws.”

Under current state legislation, all possession of marijuana, for purposes recreational and medicinal, is illegal. Maximum penalties for cultivation and distribution are 15 years in prison and/or $200,000 in fines. If enacted, Question 3 would permit certain patients to receive 60 days’ worth of medical marijuana, prescribed by a medical professional and distributed by a treatment center. In certain cases, patients will be allowed to grow their own medical marijuana for reasons related to financial hardship and limited access to transportation, among others. These patients would be allowed to grow a 60-day supply of marijuana in a locked facility.

Proponents of Question 3 cite the effectiveness of marijuana in alleviating symptoms of a litany of medical afflictions as serious as AIDS and as minor as nausea. 17 states have legalized the use of medical “pot.” In California, where medical marijuana is legal, it has been prescribed to treat insomnia, alcohol abuse, muscle spasms, migraines, seizures, appetite loss, arthritis and anxiety.

BU’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy has been working to spread awareness about Question 3 among BU students. The group has been tabling at the GSU Link to educate students on medical marijuana and help them register to vote, even mailing in forms for new voters so their voice can be heard in the Question 3 debate.

Chapter president KC Mackey called medical pot a “highly effective…pain management tool.” While SSDP’s mission is to end the war on drugs entirely and support total legalization of all recreational drugs, the legalization of medical marijuana would be, to them, a promising and progressive step in the right direction.

“We are concerned about the use of drug use and abuse, but we also know that the war on drugs is failing our society, and that there are safer alternatives to handle drugs and drug-related pathologies,” Mackey said. “We neither condone nor condemn drug use but rather respect people’s sovereignty over their own bodies, as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.”

This coming week, Mackey and SSDP will host a screening of Waiting to Inhale, a documentary about medical marijuana, followed by a Q&A session with Eric McCoy, a multiple sclerosis patient who has found relief from his symptoms with cannabis.

Proponents believe the legalization of marijuana may decrease use of “harder” narcotic pain relievers, and that a strict enforcement of the new law would allow the state of Massachusetts to control the use of medical cannabis, something that may already occur significantly despite its illegal nature.

Opponents of the initiative, however, believe that the medicinal properties of marijuana and its benefits to patients are far outweighed by the problems that could arise with its legalization.

Boston University School of Law J.D. candidate David Ullian provided insight in the research for this article. He said that, for opponents of the initiative, the most problematic phrasing is “…and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”

“…It is unclear how strictly DPH and physicians will enforce the debilitating medical condition requirement. It seems possible that a physician could claim that a patient has a debilitating medical condition and might benefit from medical marijuana when the patient might not actually have a debilitating medical condition, or might not benefit significantly from medical marijuana use,” he explained.

Medically speaking, the subjectivity of “benefit significantly” and “debilitating” are potentially problematic. The vague wording poses ample opportunity for a corrupt doctor or undeserving patient to benefit.

Still others are troubled by this potential loophole because it may breed opportunities for recreational pot growing and distribution.

They believe the initiative will allow anyone with a legitimate excuse the chance to grow “two months’-worth” (also potentially subjective) of pot in their very own backyard, with little to no regulation of into whose hands said pot actually falls.

“In addition, Question 3, according to opponents, would permit anyone age 21 and over to operate a pot shop in your neighborhood to sell marijuana for any ‘medical’ reason, even if the illness is not serious,” Ullian said. Opponents worry pot shops will become the money laundering sites at best and bastions of corruption at worst.

Their establishment, clearly, is controversial in and of itself. The proposed establishment of a total 35 shops means 35 neighborhoods with weed around the corner. Will citizens be in support of these establishments just down the block? What’s more, will they have a say?

There are others who say that legalizing medical marijuana is negligent because of the health hazards of smoking. In the short term, smoking pot can cause memory loss, paranoia, and impaired cognitive abilities. In the long term, it can cause mental health difficulties in the form of depression and anxiety disorder, increased risk for head, neck and lung cancers, and increased incidence of bronchitis and other lung-affecting illnesses. Do the temporary benefits outweigh the risks?

Legalizing medical marijuana may also send a negative or possibly confusing message to children. Just as middle schoolers are being commanded to “Just Say No” and are warned against the mind-muddling, brain cell-killing green stuff, their grandparents may be receiving prescriptions from their doctors for that very same stuff.

At this time, the polls say Massachusetts residents will likely pass Question 3 despite the vague wording and potential loopholes within. If enacted, the state will be faced with a long road of trial and error ahead, picking policies from the 17 other medical pot-legal states for a combination yielding minimum corruption and maximum relief.