Needham health officials spoke out against a question that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot seeking to legalize access to medical marijuana with a doctor’s consent.
Members of the Needham Board of Health and Public Health Department staff presented their views to selectmen during a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11, saying they felt there should be more research done before the legislation moves forward.
The initiative petition for “A Law for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana”—Question 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot in Massachusetts—would allow patients to obtain a registration card, with a physician's approval, that would allow the individual to purchase marijuana at a nonprofit medical marijuana treatment center. A certificate could be obtained for a variety of medical issues, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other conditions determined appropriate by the patient’s doctor.
The registration card would allow a person to purchase and carry a 60-day supply of medical marijuana—an amount that is not otherwise quantified in the proposal.
In addition, under the proposal, a “personal caregiver”—anyone over age 21 who is authorized by the patient—may purchase medical marijuana for the patient. The caregiver would be prohibited from consuming the drug.
The initiative also allows for home cultivation of up to a 60-day supply for individuals who can prove a financial hardship, physical inability to access transportation or the lack of a medical marijuana treatment center within a reasonable distance from their home.
In reviewing the research, Board of Health member Dr. Jane Fogg said there was “quite a bit of evidence” suggesting that marijuana had potential use as medicine but that she and other health officials felt more study should be conducted about the best and safest ways to administer the drug.
“We’re concerned about the practicality of this law,” she told selectmen. “For this reason, we cannot support it as it’s written.”
Fogg, a physician associated with , was joined at the table by fellow Board of Health members Ed Cosgrove and Stephen Epstein, Public Health Director Janice Berns and Substance Abuse Senior Program Coordinator Carol Read.
Fogg said the proposal is “very open-ended” in how it defines patients and that a certificate for medical marijuana use would not be the same as a prescription, lacking the specific instructions of most medical prescriptions such as proper dosing, timing and amount per day to be consumed. She also felt it would be difficult for officials to regulate intoxication and recommend against certain drug interactions.
The home cultivation and personal caregiver allowances were also “very concerning” to officials, Fogg said, because they would be difficult to monitor.
“There’s a great deal of onus on the Department of Public Health on how this is developed and monitored,” she said.
In other states where medical marijuana has been legalized, there have been problems with easy access for people who use the drug for non-medicinal purposes, and Fogg said she was not sure the petition provided anything that would prevent similar problems in Massachusetts.
Epstein said that, unlike in other states, the Massachusetts proposal does require that medical marijuana treatment centers be not-for-profit—which could address some problems that have occurred in other states, in which organized crime has taken control of the medical marijuana market. But he maintained that there were still health issues the initiative didn’t address.
Read said statistics have shown that marijuana-related crime and driving under the influence incidents have increased in some states where medical marijuana has been legalized.
If approved, the initiative would authorize the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to issue registrations for up to 35 nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers, with at least one treatment center to be located in each county, and a limit of five per county.
Cosgrove said this stipulation could put the treatment centers “right in our backyard.”
“We could very well have something like this in Needham,” he said.
Town officials would have to set zoning rules to define exactly where a medical marijuana treatment center could and could not be located.
Other questions to appear on the ballot statewide include Question 1, an initiative requiring all car manufacturers to provide diagnostic and repair information for vehicle models beginning with 2015, and Question 2, an initiative that would allow physicians to prescribe medication to end the lives of terminally ill patients.