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October 23, 2012

Med marijuana ballot debate heats up

BOSTON — Opponents of a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana claimed Monday that proponents ultimately hope to legalize the drug for all uses, but proponents accused them of using “hysteria and fear” to keep people from necessary medicine.

The two sides met in front of the State House steps on a sunny Monday afternoon, where doctors and lawmakers on each side made their case, backed by those who said they suffered through the lack of proper pain relief, on one side, and those who had experienced the perils of drug addiction, on the other.

“There is no restriction whatsoever on these marijuana treatment centers, where they ought to go,” said Sen. John Keenan, D-Quincy, speaking from the microphone and backed by a phalanx of recovering drug addicts. He described the proposed legislation as “vague, ambiguous and open to exploitation.”

Proponents of Question 3— which appears on ballots across the state — waited until the opponents’ event was over to make their case for legalizing and regulating marijuana for medicinal use. They pointed out the proposed legislation would create a felony for anyone who tries to fraudulently use it, and said the state Department of Public Health would regulate where treatment centers can locate and how long a treatment card can be used by a patient.

“There’s no property of medical marijuana that causes people to die,” said Dr. Karen Munkacy, of Newton, who said medical marijuana is a “gateway backwards,” leading people off of addictive and harmful painkillers.

Opponents of the ballot question said that it would contribute to a trend started by a successful 2008 ballot law, which decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. They said Question 3 would send a confusing message to children and would make marijuana more available for abuse.

“I have family members that have passed away because of the use and abuse of drugs, and people start with marijuana,” said Rep. Martin Walsh, D-Dorchester. “People start by smoking that innocent joint.”

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