Massachusetts Struggles to Make Medical Marijuana Reality
Veronica Brown '17 Assistant News Editor
In 2012, the people of Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. The resulting legislation calls for no more than 35 medical marijuana dispensaries, with at least one, but no more than five, in each of the fourteen counties of Massachusetts.
Under Massachusetts’s medical marijuana laws, medical marijuana in various forms would be available to patients diagnosed with ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, Glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Hepatitis C, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or any other condition deemed debilitating by a qualified physician. Massachusetts is one of 23 states that has legalized medical marijuana.
As we approach the two-year anniversary of the vote, the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts is still early in its implementation phase, with no currently operating medical marijuana dispensaries.
On Sept. 22, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose stated mission is “advocating for safe access to medical marijuana,” held a press conference at the Massachusetts State House criticizing Governor Deval Patrick’s administration for the lack of movement in implementation. The executive director of the MPAA, Matthew Allen, expressed the group’s intent to look into legal action to expedite the implementation process.
In January of 2014, Massachusetts approved 20 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries across the state, only two of which were in Western Massachusetts. Of the four counties that make up Western Massachusetts (Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Berkshire) only Hampshire and Hampden counties held dispensaries given licenses.
Over the summer, the state declined to give licenses to both dispensaries in Western Massachusetts after the discoveries that one applicant had misrepresented his educational background in the application process and another applicant was involved in state audit proceedings for another business. Therefore, no medical marijuana dispensaries in Western Massachusetts are currently approved for licenses.
Two unsuccessful license applicants, Kind Medical and JM Farm’s Patient Group, have filed separate lawsuits against the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The dispensaries claim they met the Department of Public Health’s standards and no valid reason exists for their rejection. The office of Attorney General Martha Coakley which represents the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, maintains the applications were rejected because of problems with background checks. The case is currently awaiting a ruling.
The problems in implementation of a medical marijuana program have been brought up as an issue for debate in the current Massachusetts gubernatorial race. In a Sept. 29 debate, candidates
Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker expressed ambivalence over possibilities for increased distribution of medical marijuana and eventual legalization of recreational marijuana.