Advocates for the legalization of medicinal marijuana held a vigil this week at the steps of the Massachusetts State House, remembering patients who had unfortunately passed on before they could get official access to medical pot. This comes almost three years after 63 percent of state voters approved a law to allow cannabis access to patients suffering from select illnesses.
“We’ve seen a lot of patients struggle and a lot of fallen family members and friends while we’ve been waiting for the implementation of the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts,” said Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance executive director Nichole Snow in a statement. “It’s been three years since voters passed the Humanitarian Care Act of 2012. The slow implementation and rollout has cost lives.” Only one medical marijuana dispensary has opened in Massachusetts since the law was approved.
Due to this slow implementation, several patients have died before having easier access to medical marijuana. One of these patients was Ken Roberts, who died last year at the tender age of 35 from a heart attack caused by trigeminal neuralgia, a condition where sufferers experience extreme head and facial pain. He had suffered from this disease since boyhood, when he was hit in the head with a baseball bat.
“Ken suffered so horrifically, that he was basically bed bound for five or six days out of the week, even the days that he has been able to get out of bed, he was in horrible, horrible pain,” said Roberts’ friend Bill Downing, speaking at the Massachusetts State House vigil. “He found that there were a few strains of marijuana that actually moderated his pain to the degree where he could function … but he had terrible difficulty getting a hold of marijuana that had been grown from those strains basically because there is so little available to patients due to the restrictions of this law.”
Downing added that he blames the state’s Department of Public Health for “having had such a restrictive medical marijuana program.” He accused the Massachusetts DPH of treating marijuana as akin to “radioactive uranium.” The only medical marijuana dispensary in the state is located in Salem, and a second one may be opening in Boston early in 2016. Still, that may be too long of a wait for patients, and those against medicinal marijuana are not surprised as to why it’s taking so long, adding that they will do everything in their power to make sure pot is not legalized for recreational use, following its legalization for medicinal purposes.
“We’ve seen it’s taken a while because, for one reason, even folks who voted sort of in the abstract to legalize medical marijuana, nobody wants this in their backyard,” said Massachusetts Family Institute president Andrew Beckwith. “Obviously there are a lot of health concerns and crime concerns dealing with what was, until recently, an illegal narcotic. It’s understandable that it would take DPH time to understand the best way to triage the damage done by this flawed policy.”
Beckwith added that his group will fight any ballot questions in 2016 seeking the legalization of recreational marijuana, just as it did back in 2012. He was optimistic in his statements, saying that parents, educators, doctors, and other opponents of medical or recreational marijuana will help prevent recreational pot from being legalized in Massachusetts. “We’ve seen in Colorado this has been heavily abused, it’s been a disaster out there,” he added. “We’re hoping the rest of the country sees what’s happened, will learn from their mistakes and not repeat them here.”