Massachusetts Medical Marijuana proposal: No home grow, no chronic pain

Massachusetts is one of the few states on the east side of our country that has the power of citizen initiative petitioning to create laws and constitutional amendments.  (See the I & R Institute for all the details.)  In 2008, Massachusetts passed a decriminalization initiative with a 2:1 majority.  It is clear residents of the Bay State support sweeping reforms in marijuana policy.

So why are some Massachusetts residents proposing a medical marijuana petition that follows New Jersey, DC, and Arizona further down into the Box Canyon of Medical Marijuana?  This petition has two major areas of concern to me:

(C) “Debilitating medical condition” shall mean:

Cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.

No chronic pain?  No severe nausea?  Here are the two conditions that most medical marijuana patients cite in getting their cards in other states.  They are also two conditions for which we have the most peer-reviewed documented research proving cannabis’ efficacy in relief.  By contrast, while we have plenty of anecdotal reports of cannabis’ effictiveness in treating Crohn’s, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), and Parkinson’s, we don’t have a single clinical trial to prove it.

So why are pain and nausea missing?  I believe drafters of this language are afraid of the “too many patients = abuse” frame successfully built by our opponents who put sarcasm quotes around “chronic pain”.  Years of opponents pointing to California dispensaries and young-man-heavy registries dominated by chronic pain in other states have created a meme that “chronic pain = faking to get a card to get high”.

The problem is that by not including chronic pain, we tacitly approve their frame.  We have the trump cards – scientific trials and studies – that make chronic pain one of the easiest medical marijuana qualifying conditions to defend.  We have the smarts to know it’s not that a bunch of young dudes fake chronic pain to get cards; it’s that there is a lot of chronic pain sufferers in this country.  Sixteen thousand TONS of aspirin are consumed in this country every year.  Two billion dollars per year are spent on over-the-counter pain relievers.  One hundred sixteen million Americans suffer from chronic pain, one in five say pain regularly disrupts their sleep, one in four report experiencing longer-than-a-day pain, and one in eight have had pain disrupt their work productivity every pay period.

(C) In the first year after the effective date, the Department shall issue registrations for up to thirty-five non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers, provided that at least one treatment center shall be located in each county, and not more than five shall be located in any one county.

Section 11. Hardship Cultivation Registrations.

The Department shall issue a cultivation registration to a qualifying patient whose access to a medical treatment center is limited by verified financial hardship, a physical incapacity to access reasonable transportation, or the lack of a treatment center within a reasonable distance of the patient’s residence.

So like Arizona: no home cultivation unless you live far enough away from a dispensary.  This seems to be the direction medical marijuana is evolving on the Eastern seaboard, locking patients into purchasing marijuana at prohibition prices when they could grow their own at far lower cost.  At least they included a provision to allow the poorest patients to grow their own… but if you’re that poor, how do you afford the grow equipment to get started?

Another provision Massachusetts should worry about:

Section 8. Department to define presumptive 60-day supply for qualifying patients.

Within 120 days of the effective date of this law, the department shall issue regulations defining the quantity of marijuana that could reasonably be presumed to be a sixty-day supply for qualifying patients, based on the best available evidence. This presumption as to quantity may be overcome with evidence of a particular qualifying patient’s appropriate medical use.

“60 Day Supply” was the original wording of the Washington medical marijuana law and that led to a whole bunch of problems.  Eventually, the state researched the “best available evidence” and discovered patients needed 70 ounces for 60 days.  Gov. Gregoire freaked out and the proposal was whittled down to 35 ounces.  Then once it made it through the legislature, it was whittled down again to match Oregon’s 24 ounces.

Anybody want to bet that Massachusetts will determine “60 Day Supply” works out to something between 1-to-6 ounces?  At least there is that California/New Mexico caveat that a patient can have more if there exists evidence he or she needs more, but that’s just one more hoop the most severely sick and disabled patients have to jump through.

Still, it’s not a measure I could oppose, but I worry our opponents are going to keep pushing back and restrict further the medical marijuana laws.  Ironically, they’ll be using the same tactic – “you can’t let the cancer patients suffer, can you?” – that we used to pass medical marijuana in the first place.

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