Looking back on 2014, observant readers may recall that despite a key consensus established among patients and advocates in Massachusetts, the Department of Public Health, aided by the administration of outgoing governor Deval Patrick, did everything in its power to deny and roadblock legal patients seeking legal medical marijuana. Cruel regulations aside, as we remember those who screwed us, we should also note that their reluctance will help upcoming legalization initiatives.
All the way back in August 2013, there were some calls by vocal patients, myself and the dearly departed Michael L. Malta (KOP) among them, to press for legal. There was even a protest of about 50 people outside DPH headquarters downtown. Still, the effort wasn’t yet fully supported by all the patients’ groups, with the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA) among those who abstained. There was also real pushback from the medical marijuana establishment, and from the political lobbyist crowd that thought the DPH deserved a chance to open dispensaries.
Times have changed.
The MPAA, among others, hoped the DPH might finish vetting applications in early 2014 and move on to opening dispensaries in the fall. On January 31, it actually looked like this plan could work, as DPH announced that they approved 20 provisional licenses, an initial lot that included two dispensaries in Boston and another in Cambridge.
In the process, the DPH had received more than 100 applications in a high-stakes lottery in which applicants took on significant risk and expenses including sizable application fees and requirements to hold substantial capital in bank accounts (despite those funds being subject to seizure by federal authorities). Nevermind that the system is essentially set up so CEOs and criminals can take advantage, or that the DPH was incapable of doing its job and wound up rescinding a majority of the original provisionals, including the two in Boston and Greeneway Wellness in Cambridge, after nosy geeks at the Boston Globe and other publications needled through the applications like they were the Pentagon Papers.
Greeneway was derailed despite winning the support of neighbors, the Cambridge City Council, zoning regulators, and patients. In the end, it didn’t matter that John Greene had vast approval, or that he had a lease and was ready for business. He was axed on a ridiculous technicality, as was another widely respected outfit led by Andrew D’Angelo, who was penalized because his brother, who had been listed as a partner in his Mass dispensary early on, has a prior felony conviction for helping patients with medical weed in Washington, DC.
After purging the best, the DPH pledged to start over. And start over and over again they did, with delays and silence. In the time since, patients, caregivers, and advocates have continued to challenge regulations. Take Nina, whom I’ve written about; she helps patients with medicinal oils that she produces outside of the system. Or consider Bill Downing, who formally challenged the caregiver rule in court, and who provided a non-sanctioned supply for patients for months. More recently, Downing turned to alternative CDB treatments, also on the perimeter of state law.
Just a few months ago, the MPAA and their allies showed up at the State House for press conferences with local Massachusetts mothers, all of whom spoke out with their children. One of the kids visibly seizured at the press conference outside the governor’s office. This is what it’s come to in a so-called commonwealth where people are denied legal medicine. Patrick told reporters just the other day that voters are to blame for the slow process because they wanted myriad dispensaries as well as stringent background checks. In reality, the governor and his minions have a lot of pain and blood on their hands.
In October, tired of the state imposing delay after delay on these patients, Mass-based marijuana activist Mickey Martin sparked the hashtag #unacceptable. Drawing more attention, hundreds attended a subsequent protest at the DPH and State House, including mothers with their children speaking up. A few days of positive coverage in the mainstream media ensued. Still, there’s been no immediate help for these moms, and certainly no outreach.
Through it all, the community remains united, and continues to label the DPH’s procedural crawl #unacceptable. Incoming Governor Charlie Baker needs to do right by patients, and he needs to find his compassionate side on day one. Anything short of changing the caregiver ratio rule to actually open access to medicine is a smoke screen, and patients and advocates know it. The state has already collected at least $3 million in application fees, and yet there’s no medicine. If it sounds like a scam, that’s because it is, and Baker should want no part of it.