April 10, 2012
BOSTON — There is evidence that Massachusetts residents support legalizing marijuana for medical uses. At a public hearing on April 10, lawmakers considered a proposed ballot initiative on the issue. But Beacon Hill is lukewarm on the idea.
Eric McCoy of Boston said that smoking marijuana alleviates pain from his multiple sclerosis. “The only reason I’m able to function every day, basically, is because of medical marijuana," he said. "Otherwise I would be probably stiff as a board laying on a bed somewhere, totally nonfunctional, because muscle spasms would take over."
The proposed ballot question would allow seriously ill patients with conditions such as cancer, AIDS and MS to get permission from their doctors to use marijuana. The state would register up to 35 nonprofit dispensaries to sell the drug.
Bay State residents have demonstrated support for the move. In 2010, advocates placed non-binding questions on local ballots in 18 communities, proposing to lift restrictions on marijuana use. Voters responded to the questions with a resounding "yes." Support ranged from 54 percent in some districts to up to 70 percent in others.
But at the hearing, lawmakers voiced some skepticism. Jeffrey Sanchez, public health committee co-chairman, noted that distributing and selling pot remains a federal crime.
“We’re going pass a law that’s in direct violation of a federal law? I don’t understand how Massachusetts puts in jeopardy citizens on a day to day basis," he said. The U.S. Justice Department has said it wouldn't prosecute sick people, but it would go after dispensaries, even in states where medical marijuana is legal.
If the state legislature does not approve its own medical marijuana measure, advocates will need to gather some 11,000 signatures to secure its place on the November ballot. It’s widely expected that they could clear that hurdle.