September 18, 2009
Massachusetts -- In 1992, Gov. William Weld signed into law the "Controlled Substance Therapeutic Research Act." The law requires the state to contract with a federally approved supplier of medicinal cannabis for distribution to approved patients. It is a cruel joke, for no administration, including the current one, has approved a supply.
Filed every session since 1991, legislation that would get the medicine into the hands of Massachusetts patients never gets out of committee. While our Legislature stalls, states comprising almost one-third of all Americans enacted laws that gets cannabis to patients without the approval of the Federal Government.
The legislatures of Hawaii, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont did it. This spring, over the governor's veto, the Rhode Island Legislature authorized the licensing of dispensaries where patients may purchase their medicine. Voters in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington passed laws effectively permitting qualified patients' access. These laws work.
In Congress, there is legislation that would allow states, including Massachusetts, to permit its growth and use for medicine, but despite growing bi-partisan support, it too languishes. Re-filed this past spring by Congressman Barney Frank, as we write only John Olver and James McGovern are co-sponsors. In past sessions, three other members of Massachusetts' delegation also co-sponsored.
As they did in working for decriminalization, MassCann members placed public policy questions on district ballots beginning in 2000 to measure public support for allowing seriously ill patients, with their doctor's written recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts for their personal medical use. That support is well over 70 percent. Nine of our state's 10 representatives in Congress recognize this. They regularly vote yes on amendments to the Justice Department budget prohibiting the DEA from raiding dispensaries, caregivers and patients in compliance with their state's law. The lone holdout is Rep. Stephen Lynch. Prominent opponent of Question 2, Attorney General Martha Coakley, approved the concept during her monthly appearance on the Braude and Eagan Show on WTKK FM 96.9 in June.
Beacon Hill ignored the will of the voters expressed in the public policy questions on decriminalization of possession. The result, 65 percent of the voters approved Question 2, a law that did not resemble the decriminalization proposals filed in the Legislature the decade before. It is unconscionable that once again, the Legislature and governor refuse to accept the known support of the people of the idea of allowing to patients a medicine that in 1988, an administrative law judge of the Drug Enforcement Administration concluded is "the safest therapeutically active substance known."
Since that finding was made, scientific research and the experience of hundreds of thousands of patients show it to be effective for controlling chronic diseases or the side effects of primary treatments. The testimony of patients before the Massachusetts legislature and elsewhere establish that patients who use black-market priced cannabis use it as a substitute for far more dangerous and expensive prescription drugs. Legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis is health care reform independent of the current focus on the cost of insurance.
It is only a question of when Massachusetts will have a real medicinal cannabis law. If the Legislature does not act this session - the sooner the better for patients - as surely as the sun rose this morning, an initiative petition will be filed by an out of state organization on Aug. 3, 2011. On Election Day 2012, it will receive overwhelming approval by the people. It probably will not resemble House, No. 2160 or Senate, No. 1739 now before the legislature for the fifth time in five sessions.
We think it is important that Massachusetts' medicinal cannabis legislation be homegrown, to fit the culture of the Commonwealth, not California's. Too bad, it looks like our Legislature does not care.
Steven S. Epstein is an attorney and Keith Saunders, PhD, is a sociologist.