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Medical Marijuana Still Raising Questions in Mass. After Vote

On election day in Massachusetts, voters by a wide margin approved a controversial measure to legalize medical marijuana in the Commonwealth. Now, groups for and against the ballot question are reacting to the voters’ decision. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports…

Massachusetts voters approved a  ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana on Tuesday. Question 3 was approved by an almost 2-1 margin; 63% voting yes, with 37% voting no.

Under the new law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2013 would provide patients with a doctor’s approval to obtain marijuana to treat symptoms advocates say, including the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, include pain relief, nausea, and seizures.

But the dispute over the medical benefits of marijuana continues in Massachusetts, despite the voter’s approval.

Rick Gulla, spokesman for the Massachusetts Medical Society, says his group is not recommending physicians prescribe marijuana until more is understood on the benefits of the drug.

However, because of the strong voter support for the measure, Gulla says that the Society has requested the Federal government take a look at the issue more closely.

But for some groups, including the AIDS Action Committee, the evidence is already apparent. Deb Silva, spokeswoman for the Committee, says that the drug helps patients living with HIV and AIDS increase appetite, which can prevent a weakening of the immune system.

Matt Allen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance sent WAMC a statement regarding Question #3 that reads in part...

“We look forward to working closely with patients and the state to ensure an implementation process that will make the Massachusetts medical marijuana program the safest and most secure medical treatment program in the country."

But Heidi Heilman, President of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, a group that was a leader in the campaign against Question #3 disagrees the voter’s approval is the right way to go.

Heilman said that most of the voters who voted to approve the measure probably were not aware of all the details in the bill. She objected to their tax-exempt status. And she objected to a lack of licensing oversight, with no expiration dates.  And she also feared that Massachusetts would fall into holes she claims other states, including Colorado and California have – where she says pot can be prescribed for any matter of medical symptoms.

Under the law, 35 pot dispensaries will be opened to card-holding patients to obtain the drug. The changes will go into effect on January 1st, and the the debate is likely to continue in Massachusetts until then.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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