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Medical Marijuana -- Confusion and Frustration

by Nancy Farrell

The Holliston Police Department hosted an informal discussion and exchange of ideas about the issues presented by the law concerning the medical use of marijuana that went into effect in January 2013 entitled "An Act for the Humanitarian Use of Marijuana." The law has caused confusion about who is legitimately covered under it and frustration for patients looking for relief offered by the medical use of marijuana. The discussion was led by Chief John Moore and Detective Charles Todd.

Chief Moore (above) and Detective Todd described the confusion caused by the legalization of marijuana for medical use. The confusion was added to by the decriminalization of marijuana for recreational use. When police encounter marijuana, say in a traffic stop, it's all about how many ounces and the police do not carry scales. One of the participants in the group, local doctor Vasu Brown, MD, who prescribes marijuana for patients, defined the legal amounts for medicinal use: 10 ounces for a 60 day period, or six plants, grown indoors. One ounce for personal use is allowed under the decriminalization law. To be in possession of between one and 10 ounces of marijuana, a person must have a card, like a driver's license, proving that they are registered to use marijuana medicinally. Detective Todd pointed out that the cards can be forged and the registration database is not always up-to-date and often inaccurate. So you can see where it might get confusing.

Service Dog, Lance, who belongs to Linda Arkow, was very interested in the bag containing four ounces of marijuana that Detective Todd showed the group.

On the other hand, the state has been slow to implement the law to create an effective system of dispensaries and caregivers to make marijuana available to patients. The first Massachusetts marijuana dispensary opened last week in Salem, paving the way for others.  In the meantime, Dr. Brown told the group, it is very frustrating for patients, who could benefit from marijuana for relief from pain, anxiety and nausea, for appetite stimulation and other ailments, to have to travel long distances for fill their prescriptions.

Black market dispensaries, operated by people frustrated by the red tape who decide to bypass the process, create further problems for enforcement, Detective Todd said. Dr. Brown said that the slow process of implementing the law causes a tug of war for doctors, dispensaries, caregivers and patients. Todd and Brown agreed that "we are all learning from the patients."

"If someone comes to your office with the express purpose of getting a medical use of marijuana card, is that possible in one visit?" Detective Todd asked Dr. Brown.  The answer is yes, in a 45-minute visit, taking a comprehensive medical history and doing a scan for diagnostic purposes, Dr. Brown said that she can certify the patient for medical use marijuana for 15 days.

Rick Holmes, a columnist for The Metrowest Daily News, who has been following this topic across the country, questioned why marijuana is treated differently from any other medicine. Research for prescribed medications should be done in the laboratory, not on humans, he said. Holmes made the point that one of the basic problems with the law is that it was not written by legislators, but by advocates, creating a situation has law enforcement thinking on the fly.

Jay Leary, Town Selectman and pharmacist, referencing the recent incident at NECC in Framingham, where lack of quality control caused cases of spinal meningitis, wondered why quality control had not come up as a major concern in discussing the medical use of marijuana.

Chief Moore asked the group whether marijuana would become legal. Most thought it would. He got little response when he asked what impact this would have on society. It was not clear whether this was an indication that people saw little impact, or the late hour. He then asked what, not so long ago, would have been unimaginable, for a show of hands of who in the group had not used marijuana. Many, but not all, hands were raised. The times are changing.

The Holliston Police Department has held a series of forums on law enforcement issues. The first on the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and though it may seem distant from us, the Holliston Police Department engaged participants in a discussion on excessive force in policing that ranged from police work as revenue generation to the importance of training in conflict resolution skills. In the second forum, on Militarization of Police, Chief Moore defined an insightful timeline of changes in the nature of police work in the last fifty years that showed how the relationship between professionalization of the field and the separation from the community it serves may have lead to a more militarized police force.  Chief Moore is planning another series for the fall, and looking for good topics. Good talk on things that matter is time well spent. 

These discussions are well worth attending.

Comments (1)

I think we should form more committees and task forces to talk about what kind of plants people can and cannot put into their bodies. That's how we should spend our time. And Detective Todd definitely has never committed illegal searches of citizens' property, seized that property and then lied under oath about it. Todd would never do that.

Will Hearst | 2015-07-08 16:02:32