GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 2, 2012

Medical pot foes see 'crisis' in ballot question

By Matt Murphy State House News Service
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BOSTON — Opponents of the Tuesday statewide ballot question that would legalize marijuana for medical use in Massachusetts warned on Wednesday that voter approval of the initiative would unleash a “surefire public health and safety crisis in the Commonwealth” by increasing the available supply of marijuana to teenagers and young adults.

John Sofis Scheft, of the Bellotti Law Group, said the proposed law is rife with loopholes similar to those in states like California and Colorado that will lead to a proliferation of dispensaries and increased rates of addiction.

Despite being heavily outspent and trailing in the polls, Scheft said opponents are counting on voters to oppose the question once they learn what’s contained in the ballot initiative. “When they just look at the laws they always say to us, ‘Not this law. Not this way.’ Massachusetts is smarter than this,” he said.

Supporters of Question 3 say medical marijuana would be strictly regulated, will lessen the need for narcotics like morphine and OxyContin, and will provide a new option to “ease the suffering” of patients with cancer and other debilitating conditions.

Matt Allen, from the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, disputed the characterization of the ballot proposal as being in line with laws from other states where there have been problems with large numbers of dispensaries cropping up and easy access to the drug.

“There are no loopholes in this law. It is absolutely based on the best practices and lessons learned from the 17 others states. This is going to be nothing like that,” Allen said. He said the proposed law would allow doctors and patients to make appropriate decisions about treatment for diseases and chronic pain. Allen also said there was a limit of up to 35 dispensaries for the state unlike in California, and the ballot question proposes a new felony to protect against unauthorized access or distribution.

“We have limits and require that licenses are regulated by the state,” Allen said. “No one has more to lose than us, the patients counting on us if it’s not tightly controlled.”

Dozens of teenagers from Ostiguy Recovery High School in Boston joined Scheft at an event at the Omni Parker House Wednesday morning to advocate defeat of the ballot question, sharing personal stories of addiction that often started with marijuana.

A 19-year-old student who identified himself as “Sully” said he came from a family with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and was introduced by friends to marijuana at age 11. “They say marijuana is that gateway drug and for me that’s on point…All of this started with that first hit,” he said.

Sully said legalizing medical marijuana would “increase supply and demand” and make it easier for young people to gain access to the drug.

Bradley Sylvestre, 18, grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla. He said his father smoked weed, and he tried his first joint at age 8.

“I smoked weed on a daily basis every day,” he said. “I stopped going to school. I would go to school high.” Sylvestre said he’s now on the road to recovery and wants to attend Salem State College and major in criminal justice so he can become a police officer.

State Sen. John Keenan, a Quincy Democrat and co-chairman of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, attended and spoke at the event in opposition to the ballot question.

According to a comparison of New England medical marijuana laws compiled by Keenan’s office, Massachusetts would have the least restrictive definition of a debilitating medical condition to qualify for medical marijuana.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Maine already have medical marijuana laws. But if the Tuesday ballot measure is approved, Massachusetts would be the only New England state not to require parental consent if under 18, to not limit the number of patients a personal caregiver can have, to not have an expiration date on a medical marijuana cards, and to not requires dispensers to regularly renew their licenses or put limits on where dispensaries can be sited.

“This law is so poorly written it’s written to exploit the entire population, but I think specifically the young people,” Keenan said.