Image by Brittany Grabowski
You should know about the Act for Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana. Crafted by a coalition of groups including the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), the current law was written so caregivers would be available to help patients while they wait for dispensaries to open, and also for the benefit of patients who cannot afford dispensaries after they open.
Instead, the caregiver system was effectively eliminated through regulations that created a restrictive ratio of one patient for each caregiver. This impediment continues to put lives at risk by limiting safe access to quality medicine.
For most patients, cultivating their own medicine is not a realistic option because they lack the expertise, time, physical ability, or space. However, under the 1:1 ratio, it is nearly impossible for people to find available caregivers because patients drastically outnumber providers. Even patients who find help often have to wait several months.
The MPAA has also heard from many caregivers who point out that growing medicine for just one patient is too expensive to justify. Caregivers can only produce medical marijuana at a reasonable price when they grow for multiple patients. In a recent email I received from the the Department of Public Health responding to my challenge of the ratio, I was informed that it’s “the spirit of the initiative” to reduce the caregiver ratio to one caregiver, one patient. This is false.
Restricting the hardship cultivation system doesn’t reflect an intent to ensure safe access for all in a timely fashion. For example, John Espinosa, a patient with a rare and aggressive cancer called synovial sarcoma, says that in lieu of marijuana he was for a time “forced to use substandard medicine” that was not tested in a lab for contaminants, and that his “health suffered while searching for quality medicine.” All while fighting a life-threatening tumor.
John is one of many of Massachusetts residents who is tired of being told to “just be patient.” With this in mind, the MPAA is continuing to advocate for improvements to the caregiver system, and for the rapid implementation of dispensaries. Beyond continuing to build support at the local level, we are working to introduce a bill for the upcoming 2015-2016 legislative session that would fix the caregiver system and provide discrimination protections for patients.
But rather than wait for a bill to slowly wind its way through the State House, the most expedient way to help patients would be for DPH to immediately fix the caregiver regulation. Outgoing Governor Patrick remained silent in the face of countless pleas for change, but we are hopeful that the incoming Governor, Charlie Baker, will recognize the current crisis, and respond by addressing this issue.
Nichole Snow is the deputy director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.