Lt. Governor Murray: Medical Marijuana Legalization Will Stress Municipalities

Reprint of Statehouse News Service Article, November 1, 2012:

By Colleen Quinn

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 1, 2012….Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray joined the list of opponents of a ballot question that would legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts, calling the proposal “dangerously overbroad” and fraught with potential for abuse.

If dispensaries open around the state to distribute marijuana to patients who qualify to receive it, it will have devastating financial and public safety impacts on local communities that will be left to guard against abuses, Murray said in an interview with the News Service on Thursday.

“The idea that you are going to have 35 storefront operations selling marijuana with the ability to grow it is going to completely stress local police departments and public health departments at a level that I don’t think people have really contemplated here,” Murray said.

Murray, who chairs the state’s interagency council on substance abuse and prevention, said if the question passes, “the consequences are really dire in terms of what could happen here,” adding he would urge the Legislature to “do a major rewrite of this.”

The way the question is written, there are no restrictions on where the dispensaries could be established, Murray said, adding he worries they could go up anywhere, “next to your local grocery store, you could have one of these next to your kids dance place. You could have one of these across the street from the park you go to.”

Murray said he wanted to make his feelings known because he feels strongly about the issue. Gov. Deval Patrick last month, during a radio interview, said he did not “have a lot of enthusiasm” for medical marijuana, a sentiment echoed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

Supporters say the law would strictly regulate the distribution of medical marijuana, and will ease the pain and suffering of cancer patients and others with long-term debilitating conditions.

Matt Allen, from the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said Wednesday that the proposal draws from the “best practices and lessons” from 17 other states and contains “no loopholes.”

Allen said the proposed law would allow doctors and patients to make appropriate decisions about treatment for diseases and chronic pain. And he noted the question proposes a new felony to protect against unauthorized access or distribution.

“We have limits and require that licenses are regulated by the state,” Allen said. “No one has more to lose than us, the patients counting on us if it’s not tightly controlled.”

After years of trying to pass a bill for medical marijuana in the Legislature, frustrated supporters took their efforts to voters this year, circumventing Beacon Hill by gathering enough signatures for the ballot and raising hefty sums of money.

The Massachusetts Medical Society has come out against the measure, reaffirming its position that the medical effectiveness of marijuana has not been scientifically proven, and must be studied further before the medical society considers endorsing its use. The health risks associated with marijuana smoke can be “more poisonous” than tobacco and can lead to long-term mental impairment, Dr. Richard Aghababian, the society’s president, said. The MMS represents over 24,000 physicians in Massachusetts. .

During the last few weeks, opponents of the question have ramped up efforts to defeat the measure, which has registered majority support in numerous public opinion polls.

Sen. John Keenan, a Quincy Democrat, is one opponent trying to convince the public Question 3 would make marijuana more easily accessible and lead to more addiction, especially among young people.

During an event in front of the State House last week, Keenan said lax regulations could result in marijuana being diverted from legal medical uses.

Murray said he fears patients who are allowed to keep a 60-day supply of marijuana will have their homes broken into by people attempting to steal it, and dispensaries allowed to grow the drug will also be prime targets for break-ins.

“I think the ramifications and the time efforts and dollars that it’s going to take to monitor and control this have not been factored in and thought about on the municipal level, the state level,” he said.

Six states have ballot questions or pending legislation about legalizing medical marijuana. Along with Massachusetts, Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania are all considering it. Other New England states have legalized medical marijuana, including Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and most recently Connecticut.

A recent Suffolk University/WHDH poll of 600 likely Massachusetts voters showed support for the legalization of medical marijuana 55 percent to 36 percent.

The lieutenant governor also weighed in on the other two ballot questions, saying he was disappointed by the turnaround from backers of Question 1, which would require auto manufacturers to provide all repair and diagnostic information that is available to dealers to all consumers. Murray said he and Patrick thought there was consensus and agreement on the compromise legislation the governor signed, and they were “disappointed that was not held.” After announcing they would urge voters to skip Question 1 in agreement with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Right to Repair Coalition reversed course in October and said they would now urge voters to pass the question.

On the question that would allow doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients who request it, Murray said it is a “very personal” decision, but he has reservations about the question. People often live longer than the expected prognosis, and the fact a doctor would not be present when a patient self-administers the life-ending medication is concerning, he said.