Photo via steamcommunity.com
According to Massachusetts Department of Public Health medical marijuana regulations enacted in late-spring of 2013, independent caregivers are prohibited from offering services to “more than one patient at a time.” When this news came out, Blunt Truth dutifully reported on the law’s inadequacy, and have since been flooded with notes from patients who’ve been shut out of the system, and who are seeking legal medicine but being forced to wait for dispensaries to open.
Meanwhile, these patients are filing paperwork with DPH authorities, navigating the bureaucracy the best they can, and, in many cases, paying $200 in cash for doctor recommendations and an additional $50 to file with the commonwealth – all of which will likely have to be renewed annually. And still no medicine. Patients have paid these astronomical costs, but have thus far, in large numbers, been denied from receiving the care they need.
Let’s look at the case of someone I’ll call Lisa. She’s a terminal cancer patient at a major Boston hospital facing chemotherapy, and a friend sent her a link to our column titled, “BLUNT TRUTH: NINA’S GREEN FLOWER HEALING OILS.” She was looking for the healing oil that the subject of that piece makes, sure it would help her, and we’re happy to report that they’ve connected. Heroes step up.
This time, Nina was there for Lisa, and delivered to the big Boston hospital. Nevertheless, Lisa still had no doctor’s recommendation. She’s asked her her big hospital doctors, but they won’t even speak of it. For those kinds of services, she’s been told, Lisa must go to a specialist outside the for-profit and non-profit system of healthcare conglomerates, and pay $200 to a doctor who will recommend cannabis, and who doesn’t take insurance. Then she has to pay another $50 to the state. Lisa doesn’t have that kind of money.
Amazingly, this has spun into somewhat of a positive story. With the aforementioned situation in mind, a public plea went out to the local cannabis community. From there, Jon Napoli of the Hempest, another hero, took action. He called his friend Kevin at Canna Care Docs on Newbury Street in Boston, and they got Lisa her recommendation for free. Of course, the DPH still wants its 50 bucks.
The state is relentless. In addition to having its hand out, Lisa currently has no legal caregiver options, while dispensaries won’t open until summer. What if she can’t wait until then? What if she’s in pain now? What will she do?
Enter Bill Downing, a compassionate family man and caregiver who’s been involved at MassCann/NORML for decades, during which time he’s tirelessly supported medical pot patients, interacted with them, heard their stories, and seen some of them pass. For Downing, it’s important to serve these patients right now. To him, that’s what’s right and lawful. He can’t help but help them.
“I’m sending in paperwork for several new patients every week to DPH,” says Downing, a sometimes Dig contributor who recently disclosed to the media-at-large that he’s been helping people in spite of restrictive state regs. “I have for months. I have sent in over 260 sets of papers. [The DPH has] never contacted me. My phone number is on every paperwork set. I only have one patient at a time.”
Does he have a point? Better yet–does Downing have legal standing? That remains to be seen, but it’s quite clear that the current regulations are a joke at best. They lack basic caregiver and patient implementation plans, like an effective way to keep records. The Dig has tried to get answers. They won’t answer our calls regarding policy, and are reportedly re-booting their enrollment system, once again, some time in the distant future. To put it mildly, they’re a complete mess. A posting on their website actually explains that “patients and caregivers no longer need to register” until they get a new enrollment portal online.
Considering Obamacare and Mass Health web issues, this seems to be a recipe for disaster. As Downing noted to WBUR, “The regulation violates the statute. The statute allows for care-giving. The regulation does not.” In the end, though, Downing is a lot less concerned about legality than he is about saving lives. And in light of Massachusetts voting with a landslide mandate to get medicine to patients, he’s confident the public is most likely on his side. No doubt his allies–many of them heroes as well–are also coming out in support of Downing’s bravery.
“As the personal caregiver of myself and other members of [Veterans for Safe Access and Compassionate Care (VSACC)], we want to fully express our support Mr. Downing’s actions,” says Scott Murphy, an Iraq War combat veteran and medical marijuana patient and activist who serves as the president of VSACC. “We are humbled by his integrity, honor, and self-less service to not only veterans, but to all Massachusetts residents in need of care through the medical marijuana program. Without Mr. Downing, myself, my veteran battle buddies, and many other sick residents of the commonwealth would still be suffering without safe and effective medicine almost two years past the implementation of the program.”