Jeff is a 34-year-old Massachusetts medical marijuana patient with a legal doctor’s note. He has what’s called a congenital fusion in his lower-left vertebrae, with a fracture through it to boot. It’s perhaps even more painful than it sounds; he says, “there’s an unstable birth-gifted fusion” putting all sorts of whacked-out stress, strain, and pain on him–the condition gnaws, burns, shoots, and forces his leg to give out. On top of that, he has an adjoining fracture that’s creating bone-on-bone compression, making for a readily inflamed area at all times.
All this, yet Jeff has now gone several months without access to the non-addictive, non-toxic medicine that he has every right to buy and ingest.
It’s been nearly an entire year since the passage of a statewide medical marijuana law. Still, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has yet to offer much relief for patients like Jeff.
“I can’t find a caregiver,” he says, referring to a third-party individual who, under state law, could grow and dispense pot to him. “I’ve searched the net, attempted to reach out to the least shady caregiver offerings, and signed up for membership at a few caregiver locator and matching services, but I’ve invariably run into the same thing–caregivers are not accepting any new patients … Or, people claiming to be [caregivers], but that I’m not truly convinced are caregivers, ask me to send them personal information via email. I don’t know, but to the fairly intelligent and even modestly conventional mind, this is just too sketchy.”
There’s a good reason that Jeff can’t find legal relief for his enduring pain. DPH regulations only allow caregivers to care for one patient.
According to the Massachusetts Patients Advocacy Alliance, an authority on these matters, “Patients have expressed concern about whether this will work,” while “this limitation is likely to prove impractical.”
At this juncture, Jeff’s best bet is to wait for dispensaries to open in the next few months. Matthew J. Allen, executive director of the aforementioned advocacy group, says the “Department of Public Health is on track to issue licenses for dispensaries in January. The process is moving forward quickly in comparison to other states where government officials have resisted enacting medical marijuana laws. That is not the case here. Nonetheless, right now many patients continue to suffer without safe access to their medicine.”
Allen continues: “Although the law allows patients who can demonstrate hardship to cultivate their own medicine, doing so takes several months. Regulations restrict caregivers to cultivating for no more than one patient, so it is difficult for qualifying patients to link up with a caregiver. At this point, most patients are going to the black market to acquire medicine, or simply going without. That’s why it is important that we work to make sure that implementation continues on track, and dispensaries open as soon as possible.”
All hurdles considered, Allen is campaigning for cities and towns to lift dispensary moratoriums, and recently had successes in Salem and Cambridge. In the former, concerned citizens lobbied city councilors and won a surprise victory when the body unanimously rejected a proposed moratorium. A week later, in Cambridge, a city planning board ruled in favor of less restrictions on dispensaries.
This is all good news; but for patients with the kind of pain endured by Jeff, it’s still not coming fast enough.