Despite the overwhelming support for medical marijuana by popular vote in Massachusetts, some people in the medical community question marijuana’s healing ability as concerned advocates claim medical marijuana will hurt Massachusetts residents.
Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana on Nov. 6, with 63 percent of voters answering yes to Question 3.
The ballot question allows patients with certain medical conditions to have a maximum 60-day supply of the plant, permitting some patients without an access to treatment centers to grow enough plants only for the maximum 60 days.
In the days leading to Election Day, many state groups rallied hard against the passage of Question 3, including the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, the Massachusetts Chief of Police Association and the Massachusetts Medical Society.
Heidi Heilman, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, said the majority of people using medical marijuana in other states are not those with chronic illnesses, but users that get cards for the vague symptom of pain. More than 100,000 medical marijuana card holders, and 95 percent of those fall into that other condition category, underneath pain.
The Massachusetts law is currently vague in parameters, Heilman said.
“Anyone can get a medical marijuana card at any age, without any approval from parents, and have a lifetime membership to a pot store or to grow at their home,” Heilman said.
But proponents of medical legalization said Massachusetts residents would benefit from the law.
Bill Downing, spokesman for The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, said legalizing marijuana would not open the floodgates for anyone to access the substance.
“People think ‘legalize’ and think [of] 5-year-olds going into a soda shop and buying marijuana cigarettes off the shelf,” Downing said. “No, [marijuana’s] not going to be legalized so that all people in all circumstances can buy marijuana. That’s not what we want. ”
Heilman said there is no research that ensures marijuana has any medicinal value.
“We don’t decide on medicine through popular opinion or voter initiative,” she said. “It’s reckless, and it’s irresponsible in that it puts our public at risk of fraudulent unsafe medicines.”
Richard Aghababian, president of Massachusetts Medical Society, said in an email statement that Massachusetts Medical Society does not consider marijuana medicine because it has not been rigorously tested as other drugs.
“Above all, the prescribing of drugs by a physician should be based on clinical and medical evidence, not by popular vote,” Aghababian said.
There is still some uncertainty over how marijuana prescriptions will be issued in Massachusetts.
David Rosenbloom, a Boston University School of Public Health professor, said marijuana is not medicine.
“Medicine is a substance which has been shown in randomized controlled trials to have some beneficial effect on some desired health endpoint,” Rosenbloom said. “Marijuana has never been subjected to that, so marijuana is not medicine.”
Rosenbloom said a doctor would never prescribe marijuana because it is still illegal at the federal level. He also said a doctor would not encourage a patient to smoke.
“Doctors are not in the business of recommending or writing prescriptions for smoked marijuana,” he said.
Heilman said the new law does not state a Massachusetts state physician has to write a prescription, adding another problem to the legislation.
“These medical marijuana recommendations could come over the Internet from unscrupulous doctors from other states,” she said.
Heilman said in Oregon, one doctor issued over 35 percent of medical marijuana cards over the course of a year. This worked out to be 29 patients a day and $200 a piece for the doctor who was recommending these patients.
“This sort of law brings out the worst in doctors,” Heilman said.
Heilman said most Massachusetts voters probably had no idea what was in the law in Question 3 and that is why it passed. She said because marijuana is so addictive for people with developing brains, the industry would target and capitalize on young people.
“We’re going to have a population of people growing up stoned,” she said. “What does that do to our competitive market as a country? What does that do to our economy? What does that do to our social health?”
But Downing said many anti-marijuana groups propagate false information about marijuana.
“Cannabis is actually the safest, most therapeutically active substance known to man,” he said. “The substance has very little to do with the behavior. Addictive behavior has to do with someone’s personality.”
Downing said cannabis prohibition creates a $60 billion underground economy, that is untaxed and unregulated, managed only through violence.
He also said marijuana use arrests more than 800,000 Americans each year, which weakens the moral impact of the term ‘illegal.’
Douglas Kriner, a professor of political science at Boston University, said the move to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts could possibly conflict with federal law.
“Perhaps the most interesting angle to me is one involving the supremacy of federal over state laws,” he said. “States can ‘decriminalize’ various usages of marijuana, but it is still against federal law.”