Mass. OKs medical marijuana, but questions remain

Associated Press Modified: November 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm •  Published: November 7, 2012
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"We only have 35 dispensaries versus the hundreds that are in Los Angeles or Denver. Nonprofits will be doing the dispensaries," said Peter Hayashi, a neuropsychologist from Newton who suffers from chronic, debilitating nerve pain and supported the law to legalize medical marijuana.

"The Department of Public Health is hardly a hotbed of licentiousness or recklessness. I have confidence that they'll be able to handle the question of the number (of dispensaries) in a reasonable manner."

Supporters also cite the penalties for violating the law. Anyone who fraudulently uses a DPH registration could be sentenced to up to six months in county jail, while those who fraudulently use a registration card to sell marijuana for non-medical uses could face up to five years in state prison.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said the mixed experiences in other states caused him to have his own misgivings about the ballot question initially. But he said now that the measure has been approved, the DPH has the responsibility for drafting regulations.

"They will do so and do so well," Patrick said Wednesday. "They'll be fully vetted as you know in this process, and we will learn as we go." "That's been the secret of success around health care reform and a host of other legislative initiatives over the last few years, and I suspect that will also be the case with medical marijuana."

Heidi Heilman, who headed the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, a group that worked to defeat the ballot question, said she is concerned that the broad language in the law will open up the door for many people to get marijuana legally. The law lists nine specific medical conditions, but also says patients with "other conditions" can receive marijuana with written permission from their doctors.

"People can get medical marijuana for headaches, insomnia, back pain. That will increase the demand, and with that comes an increase in supply. That's what happened in other states," Heilman said.

"It's a billion-dollar industry that we just opened the door to here in Massachusetts. They are going to come in and capitalize on anyone in pain and our young people."

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Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.