On June 25, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) sent a letter to medical marijuana patients who were using the services of Yankee Care Givers. In it the state claimed Bill Downing of Yankee was not appropriately designated to service them, and instructed people to “choose a new personal caregiver, or determine that you no longer require the services of a personal caregiver at this time.”
In response, earlier this month Downing and 16 cannabis patients filed a lawsuit against the DPH, which is designated to administer a statewide dispensary and caregiver program. In doing so, the cannabis advocates hope to eliminate three lines in the department’s regulations on grounds that they came into being after the law passed in 2012. Specifically, the bureaucratic additions they hope to remove through the courts are:
- a limitation preventing caregivers from having more than one patient
- a restriction stopping caregivers from taking compensation
- annual patient registration fees of $50 or $100 to be paid to DPH
Naturally, we reached out to Downing, who is a sometimes Dig columnist and longtime pot crusader in the commonwealth. Here’s what he had to say …
Sixteen Patients have joined the lawsuit. What do you hope to gain from this?
BD: Once it’s clear their identities as patients will not be made public, I expect many more patients will be interested in joining. We are requesting patient anonymity, but it has not been granted yet. If time and circumstances allow, we will have hundreds of patients join the suit. If the Department of Public Health was comfortable with enforcing this regulation, they would have sent notices in June 2013 when they enacted the regulations. They know these regulations will not stand in court and that’s why they have been hesitant to enforce them. Only now, as the sugar daddies and dispensary owners are finally hoping to launch, is it worth the bother for DPH to try to enforce what they know to be unenforceable regulations.
Yankee has spared no expense to hire a first class legal team, which is graciously supplemented by several pro bono attorney/advisers, at least one of whom is a Yankee patient. We, as always, depend on a judge understanding the law, but beyond that, there is no question we will win first our injunction and then our suit. We also hope to force DPH to send letters to patients telling them they are allowed to use Yankee Care Givers again. We have contemplated the strange turn our injunction portends. Rather than being “investigated” by the police, with an injunction we will be protected by the police if we need them. Rather than being constantly dogged by legal uncertainty and under a cloud of crushing legal expenses, Yankee can stabilize operations and controls and reestablish delivery statewide.
When might this case be heard and when could patients expect to receive relief?
BD: A decision on the injunction could come soon … Once we have notice of our injunction Yankee will resume operations immediately. We will resume taking and filling orders the next day. Deliveries would resume the day after that.
Has DPH reached out to help any of these patients that you’ve been serving?
BD: The person representing patients who attended the preliminary meetings with Department of Public Health officials – and other cronies in law enforcement and drug treatment – after passage of the [medical marijuana] law told me DPH officials did not believe marijuana was a medicine and were forthright in that opinion. It seems the DPH still believes marijuana is not a medicine. Why else would Department of Public “Health” care so little about patients statewide having access to marijuana? Would DPH be able to get more money, expand their bureaucracy, wield greater powers? No – allowing patients caregivers doesn’t help DPH at all.
Give a regulator – like DPH – a pen and what do you expect they will do? They will regulate and the more power-hungry the regulator, the more they will regulate. DPH is very power-hungry and it regulated the crap out of our medicinal cannabis law – including all kinds of stuff the law never intended. All that stuff, not coincidentally, tends to restrict patient access to the greatest degree possible. In all DPH regulations of medicinal cannabis, the safest therapeutic substance known to humans, is treated as though it were radioactive Oxycodone.
DPH’s “help” is only what they offer in their letter: “Until dispensaries become operational you can choose a new caregiver, or determine you no longer require the services of a personal caregiver at this time.” How unhelpful. A new way to say, “Eat shit and die.” They were so disinterested in helping patients they forgot to mention patients can also grow their own. Duh! I don’t get paid many tens of thousands of dollars by the state to do this shit like DPH employees do, and even I – a heavy cannabis user – noticed their unhelpful omission. They truly, deep-down, don’t give a shit about the patients.
DPH thinks medical cannabis patients are just druggies. That’s how medical cannabis patients are treated. They also gave patients their phony-baloney email [firstname.lastname@example.org] and their endless frustrating phone line [617.624.5020] that was never to be answered. DPH non-response to these methods of communication are another accurate, sad reflection on their “help” for patients. [Ed. note: The author contacted those places several times with no success]. DPH “help” is charging patients $50 or $100 annually for “registration” … when the law does not allow them to charge patients for anything. With “help” like that, patients would do better without DPH help.
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