Committee Holds Hearings on Medical Marijuana Possibility

Originally appearing here. To explore the issue of legalizing medical marijuana the Joint Committee on Public Health held a public hearing Tuesday about the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act. If it passes through the Massachusetts House and Senate, the bill will be on the ballot in November when residents will decide if medical marijuana will be legalized. Also known as Senate Bill 1161, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act was introduced by State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) on June 24, 2011, according to He said the purpose of the act is to “protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, as well as their practitioners and designated caregivers, from arrest and prosecution, criminal and other penalties, and property forfeiture if such patients engage in the medical use of marijuana,” according to The committee has until Wednesday, May 2 to pass the initiative, draft a committee version of the legislation or not act and continue the process toward the ballot, according to Both Rosenberg and Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) support the bill, but do not believe it will pass the committee. The bill under the state constitution was required to be reviewed by committee after a petition with 80,710 signatures was filed. If the bill does not pass, another 11,485 signatureson the petition will be needed to add the initiative on the ballot, according to People are skittish to vote on the issue of medical marijuana, according to Rosenberg. The federal government laws override any state laws and the federal government ruled medical marijuana illegal. Rosenberg would like to see the federal government legalize medical marijuana, but strongly believes that if the government will not act, the state should. The proposed law would allow a doctor to prescribe a 60-day supply of marijuana to a patient. It would also allow at most 35 nonprofit locations or treatment centers around the state, with one in each county, to dispense marijuana, according to In November 2008 Question 2 was passed, which replaced the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with civil penalties, such as fines. Medical marijuana is already legal in 16 states including the District of Columbia, California and Michigan, and 18 states have proposed legislation, several of which will be decided on the November ballot. There are three active bills in Massachusetts, two in the Senate and one in the House in favor of legalization, according to Medical marijuana is used by patients to help them deal with extreme chronic pain, anxiety, depression and nausea. This applies to people with diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and many other conditions characterized by muscle spasticity or nausea, where standard medications do not always help. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of chronic pain patients experienced relief when using medical marijuana compared to other long-term drugs, said a Pain Management of America study published on Story is also in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. Story said she has heard and seen testimony from people dealing with illness, most often cancer patients, who have said that using medical marijuana allows them to stop being nauseous and gives them an appetite. According to Story, they say medical marijuana is the only drug that helps. Opponents of the bill are concerned the law would have an adverse effect on children, allowing more access to the drug and implying marijuana is safe, said the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance on their website. “There is no easy way to solve this problem,” said Story. She said another obstacle is where the medical marijuana will come from, it will have to be regulated, but growing marijuana is still illegal and controversial in Massachusetts. University of Massachusetts Professor Lyle Craker petitioned the Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] to allow him to grow marijuana and research its potential medical benefits, but was rejected. According to the DEA, “Permitting anyone other than the government to grow marijuana would lead to greater illegal use of the drug.” Voters in Massachusetts may soon have the chance to decide whether to make medical marijuana legally available in the state. MAPS is currently supporting a federal lawsuit by University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor Lyle Craker, Ph.D., against the DEA for denying him a license to grow marijuana for research. If Massachusetts voters approve medical marijuana and the federal government continues to block research into its safest and most effective uses, the gulf between the war on drugs and the needs of patients will become clearer than ever.