Image by Brittany Grabowski
Is legal marijuana coming to Mass sooner than November 2016? Local advocates hope so, and to that end they have two new reform bills filed in the Massachusetts Legislature, as well as possible help from a special new legislative committee established by State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg.
The good news: A House bill to “regulate and tax the cannabis industry,” sponsored by Rep. David Rogers of Cambridge, and another that aims to help legal patients get access and employment protection among other things. Not all the language is out yet, but I look forward to combing through the details as soon as they are made available.
What we know for now is that the Mass Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA) is on board with the legislative movement; in a summary of one bill on their website, the group states their intention is to protect patients by lifting cruel and arbitrary limits set by the Department of Public Health. According to MPAA Deputy Director Nichole Snow:
“Over the last two years, I have attended wakes and funerals of patients that were waiting for safe access since the passage of the Act for Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana of 2012 … We are asking to expand patient protections through ending employment, residential, and education discriminations. We are also asking to exempt medical marijuana from taxation and to increase the amount of patients that caregivers can serve if they do not have a dispensary open near their homes.”
Snow continues: “The status of the medical marijuana program is a public safety emergency. Patients live in fear of losing their homes or their employment. Some patients continue to receive substandard medication on the black market to treat life-threatening illnesses. This makes matters worse by forcing them to be involved in criminal activity, or worse, exacerbating an already dire health situation … The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance will continue to ask Representatives to sign on as cosponsors to ‘An Act to Protect Patients Approved by Physicians and Certified by the Department of Public Health to Access Medical Marijuana.’”
Meanwhile, the bill sponsored by Rogers aims to legalize marijuana for people who are 21 and over. It’s a comprehensive bill that would cover retail outlets and cafes, allow home grow provisions, and even grant blanket amnesty for past offenses.
All good news, right?
Yes, but then there’s Senate President Rosenberg and Governor Charlie Baker.
After announcing his committee, Rosenberg went on Boston Herald Radio claiming the initiative process is not the preferred way to pass “controversial” laws. His argument: The legislature can do it better than reformers who passed decriminalization in 2008 and the medical marijuana provision in 2012, and who have plans for a legalization push in 2016. Baker supports Rosenberg’s move to study legalization, but nevertheless stands in firm opposition to cannabis legalization.
For all the harping about his committee and how it should trump the initiative process, Rosenberg should realize that reformers only turned in that direction because, after decades of hearings, studies, and doubletalk at the State House, there have been no laws passed. If we had waited for lawmakers to get it right, we’d still be talking about decriminalization, never mind fixing medical provisions and going legal. Bottom line: At this point, there’s no guarantee Rosenberg or his counterparts in the House and corner office wouldn’t steer marijuana bills into the ground if given the opportunity.
If these new leaders on Beacon Hill are worth a damn, they will team up and finally implement the medical marijuana program as it was intended before former Governor Deval Patrick destroyed it. Otherwise, if local pols just continue blowing smoke signals, they can expect legalization to be on the ballot in 2016. Like Snow says, “It’s not a tough question. Patients deserve these protections … One dispensary is not enough to treat all.”