Although some Massachusetts citizens are still celebrating the state’s passage of its medical marijuana law that went into effect on January 1, 2013, all of the highly detailed regulations required for running the program have not yet been finalized. However, the law only gives the state 120 days to finalize those guidelines.
According to the state’s Department of Public Health, the first draft of these regulations will be posted on the department’s website on March 29th so that thoughtful debate and discussion can take place and then close on April 20th. Hopefully, a final draft of the regulations will be passed by the Massachusetts Public Health Council on May 8th. If the council adopts the regulations that day, they will become effective on May 24, 2013.
While all of this does signify a step forward for the proponents of what the state ballot referred to as “the humanitarian medical use of marijuana,” Massachusetts citizens must keep the following key facts in mind before assuming they can immediately enjoy the open use of medical marijuana for many of their medical ailments.
Five Key Warnings about Medical Marijuana Use in Massachusetts
- The federal laws of this country still do not formally recognize “medical” marijuana. Like users in the 17 other states that have already passed medical marijuana laws, Massachusetts citizens must bear in mind that the federal government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy still holds that (a) marijuana is very likely to be abused, (b) there still isn’t widespread acceptance of marijuana in the medical community as a form of proper treatment in this country and (c) there are inadequate safety guidelines in place for physicians to properly monitor patients’ usage of the drug for their medical needs. While this same office indicates that it’s less likely to pursue those who are seriously ill, it clearly states on its website that it will very closely monitor all of those who are in the business of actually providing marijuana to patients in states that have passed “medical marijuana” laws.
- Not every medical condition qualifies a patient to use medical marijuana. Although physicians are often granted great latitude in deciding which conditions qualify patients to use “medical marijuana,” Massachusetts is mainly focused on providing it to those who are being treated for specific medical conditions. These ailments include: cancer, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and glaucoma (per the state’s Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts). Anyone seeking treatment for a different ailment runs a great risk of legal complications — if not actual penalties.
- Individual prescription limitations exist. Patients are only allowed to have a 60-day supply of medical marijuana in their possession at any one time. (Slightly different regulations will govern which patients may be allowed to cultivate their own marijuana for medical usage only).
- At some point, medical marijuana users might see their driving rights challenged. The science and law of driving under the influence of marijuana is still evolving. But there is no question that it is illegal to drive while impaired by any drugs. Multiple studies keep indicating that those who smoke pot are much more likely to get into accidents than those who do not smoke it. This type of problem was clearly reviewed in a 2004 Department of Transportation study (DOT HS 809 725) and in others since, including one study noted in a February 2012 CBS News story (by Ryan Jaslow) entitled, “Marijuana-smoking Motorists Twice as Likely to Crash Cars.” While this type of challenge may not take place for a number of years, it’s still quite possible on down the road.
- There appear to be distinct health risks tied to marijuana usage. Recent medical studies clearly indicate that marijuana users, especially younger males, have a higher chance of developing testicular cancer than those who do not smoke the substance. Even the American Cancer Society is now posting this information on its website, including a September 2012 story by Stacy Simon entitled, “Study Links Marijuana Use to Testicular Cancer.”
All of these key warnings must be kept in mind as Massachusetts finalizes its regulations for medical marijuana patients within its state.
By Elizabeth Smith