Image by Brittany Grabowski
If 2014 was the year that outgoing Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick screwed cannabis patients, then 2015 was the year when his replacement, Republican Governor Charlie Baker, recognized that the state’s bungled medical marijuana program was hurting vulnerable people. Baker offered more than lip service, and took action by cutting red tape that kept dispensaries in limbo. Facilities have since opened in the cities of Salem, Northampton, and Brockton, with several others expected to follow in the first half of 2016.
To some, Baker’s actions were a big surprise coming from a governor who still opposes legalization. But maybe not all that surprising considering the sizable protests against the state, and the Department of Public Health in particular, that took place at the end of last year, as well as the continued lobbying that came from individuals, families, and organizations like the Mass Patient Advocacy Alliance. As a kicker, Baker even told the Boston Herald that he is aware of how marijuana helps some people avoid opiate prescriptions and addictions.
Then there’s Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who also showed some promise albeit very reluctantly. During a zoning battle in June over a special permit for Patriot Care to open a dispensary on Milk Street downtown, Walsh helped broker a deal between a repugnant neighborhood opposition group and the caregivers. Despite his reputation as the leader of the drug-free world (around here, at least), the mayor set his prejudice against pot aside as many of his constituents—the majority of whom voted for medical marijuana—called his office in support of Patriot Care. No doubt some local media coverage helped move Walsh as well, presumably including columns such as mine in which we listed his insane and inaccurate quotations on cannabis.
2015 also delivered NECANN, the first major industry convention held in the city of Boston. At the February event, legendary sportscaster Bob Lobel made an unexpected appearance and emerged from the medical marijuana closet. That was just the beginning, as Lobel, who suffers from chronic pain, soon after appeared for an in-studio interview about his use of medical marijuana on my WEMF Radio show, “The Young Jurks,” and then posed for the cover of DigBoston and spoke with Dan McCarthy about his condition. Six months later, major media outlets including the Herald, the Boston Globe, “Chronicle,” and others “broke” the Lobel story for a second time. We’re used to being ripped off though, and in this case we are happy to shoulder the insult since Lobel has such an important message to disseminate.
As for the dueling medical marijuana initiatives … As recently as August, MassCann/NORML’s endorsement of the grassroots group Bay State Repeal (BSR) was newsworthy, along with the Globe’s surprising endorsement of that less-restrictive course of action. In the end though, despite being the preference of much of the local marijuana reform community, BSR fell short on signatures, while the well-funded Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) initiative advanced to the upcoming 2016 ballot.
While 2015 wasn’t entirely bad on all fronts, far too many elected officials still continued to say truly stupid things about cannabis. My pick for the most ridiculous offense comes from Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, who claimed that activated gummy bears are “littering the streets” in Colorado. His cautionary tale is complete nonsense, of course; nevertheless, we can expect a lot more ignorance next year, as the fight for marijuana access heats up once again, and as the pathetic few remaining prohibitionists get one last chance to mount their soapboxes before legalization reaches Mass.