Images by Chris Faraone
If you’re waiting for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to save you from Ebola, don’t hold your sweat. It’s hard to imagine them springing into action on any front; like more than 50 marijuana advocates reminded passersby in Downtown Crossing this morning, the DPH has yet to even implement a system for medical cannabis.
It’s becoming a familiar refrain around here: “TWO YEARS, TOO LATE.” That’s to say that nearly 24 months after more than half of commonwealth voters pulled for medical grass, there are still no dispensaries. Adding insult to injury, the state also dismantled a caregiving system that offered temporary relief.
“Sixty-three percent of people don’t vote on anything, but 63 percent of people [in Massachusetts] agree that people should have safe access to medicine,” said Mickey Martin, a marijuana advocacy author and operator of the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis (Ed. disclosure: Martin is a Dig advertiser and has lent his voice to this column). He continued: “It is no longer acceptable to push this problem down the road.”
If DPH employees were scrambling to save the Bay State from a pandemic, they didn’t look like it this morning. Strolling in and out of their headquarters on Washington Street, some seemingly shrugged off the protesters as an annoyance. That despite the loud hollers: “WHAT DO WE WANT? SAFE ACCESS. WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW.” They pounded home the morning’s theme – such neglect is #UNACCEPTABLE – while some individually noted, “Patients are not addicts.”
As the crowd got bigger, the smell of marijuana and the message grew stronger, the latter more specific. “They’ve taken $3 million of applicant dollars,” said Martin, who along with others questioned what the commonwealth has done with patient and dispensary fees. “Show me the money!”
All-stars from the Mass cannabis community, some of whom have contributed to Dig marijuana coverage, piled on: Bill Downing of Yankee Caregivers, outspoken patients like Nicole Snow, MassCann leaders such as Cara Crabb-Burnham, who said her group’s legions are rallying for medical marijuana despite the organization’s longer goal of legalization. Holding a sign declaring it “Evil To Deny Sick People Medical Marijuana,” patient rights advocate Dr. Keith Saunders spiked a punch bowl full of the commonwealth’s Kool-Aid on the concrete. “The DPH will say they are doing the best job they can,” said Saunders. “I say, ‘That is unacceptable.’”
Before starting a press conference and then walking the protest through downtown, US Army veteran and marijuana rights crusader Chris Foye threw the gauntlet. “Twenty-two soldiers commit suicide every single day,” he said. “I want you to think about the pills they shove down their throats at the VA. I know from experience.” Foye spoke of his work helping comrades secure medicine, slammed the commonwealth’s “high paid paper pushers,” and said he has to “go into a black market just to do the right and moral thing.” He added: “I’m here for all the veterans who can’t come out and say this, so, Fuck the DPH!”
“The Department of Public Health,” added Martin, “has blood on its hands today.”
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.