To the editor,
Few people were surprised by the passage of the Medical Marijuana Bill, the idea being that the small number of people with certain illnesses claiming to benefit from it could do so legally in Massachusetts, although federal law still prohibits it.
The Massachusetts Medical Society had many good reasons for having opposed its passage, not the least of which is that there is no way to determine dosage given the varying potency of cannabis in plant form, or what a two-month supply would entail or that smoking the plant introduces many harmful chemicals to the body. There already exists marijuana in pill form (Marinol) that can be prescribed as a Schedule III drug by physicians, though its onset of action is slower than when smoked.
Experience in other states (e.g., California) has shown that legalized medical marijuana has created new opportunities for abuse. Regardless of its merits, the new law hardly has the controls needed to deal with the problem of abuse. I am doubtful that enforcement of the new law in Massachusetts will succeed in limiting the availability of marijuana to those with the illnesses specified in the law. Dealing with this referendum, once it becomes law in January, will be a real challenge for physicians who are already trying to confront an epidemic of prescription drug overdoses and deaths.
Unfortunately, passage of this referendum can be interpreted by youth to signal that marijuana is harmless, when in fact marijuana usage by teens has been shown to permanently alter brain pathways and substantially increases the risk of anxiety, depression and addiction in adulthood. Marijuana is not a “gateway” drug, but a drug itself that many users find themselves unable to give up. For this reason the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative, of which I am a member, is supporting a bill to have marijuana possession by minors treated the same as alcohol possession — which is currently not the case.