The following is from the Office of Sen. Keenan:
Sen. John F. Keenan (D-Quincy) has announced his opposition to a state ballot question that would legalize medical marijuana, based on concerns that its passage would lead to an increase in use not related to medical conditions, adding to the state's ongoing prescription drug abuse epidemic.
“We are already seeing too many instances of legal drugs being excessively prescribed, then diverted and abused,” said Sen. Keenan, the co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. "Any pharmacological benefits gained through the addition of another addictive, in-demand drug to the local marketplace will be outweighed by the increased addiction and abuse that will undoubtedly follow."
In particular, Sen. Keenan said he opposes the question because of the wide latitude it would give physicians in determining what “debilitating medical conditions” may be treated with marijuana. While the question's definition of “debilitating medical conditions” specifically mentions chronic illnesses such as AIDS, ALS, MS, cancer, and Parkinson's, it also includes “other conditions as
determined in writing by a qualifying patient's physician.”
“This question, if adopted, would give Massachusetts among the most liberal medical marijuana laws in the nation, opening the doors for the issuance of life-long medical marijuana cards to treat a variety of illnesses, such as stress or insomnia,” said Sen. Keenan. “Only California leaves the definition of a
debilitating medical condition up to physicians to decide. Most other states either specifically define in statute what illnesses medical marijuana may be prescribed for, or require an appropriate state agency to make that determination.”
A recent study of Colorado teenagers in substance abuse rehabilitation facilities found that three-quarters had used medical marijuana, with only one of the patients having a prescription for it.
“Medical marijuana use among adolescent patients in substance abuse treatment is very common, implying substantial diversion from registered users,” the study's authors concluded in an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry this past July. “These results support the need for policy changes that protect against diversion of medical marijuana and reduce adolescent access to diverted medical marijuana.”
“While I have the utmost sympathy for those affected by chronic, painful illnesses, this question would open Pandora's Box as currently worded,” Sen. Keenan said. “Considering the epidemic of heavy duty prescription painkillers and the diversion of those pills, despite them being highly regulated, it is tough to believe this loosely-worded law wouldn't also become misused and abused by drug seekers.”
Further, said Keenan, for those affected by the types of chronic, painful illnesses referenced in the ballot question, there is the FDA-approved and regulated prescription Marinol, which is synthetic THC, the naturally occurring component of marijuana.
Sen. Keenan said he also opposes the use of the initiative petition process, in this case financed to a large extent by an out-of-state interest, to enact a law that will have such wide-ranging impacts not only on health care, but also on criminal justice, public health, taxation, agriculture, and zoning policies.
“This ballot question essentially creates an entire new state industry that is considered illegal under federal law,” he said. “This question raises a number of extraordinarily complicated medical and legal questions, but fails to provide sufficient answers. If Massachusetts is heading towards further loosening of state marijuana laws, that is a discussion that should be resolved through the Legislature, in order to allow for a proper vetting of all related issues, and not through an over-simplified ballot question, promoted and paid for by an out-of-state special interest.”
Sen. Keenan said the proposed law fails to provide for proper oversight of medical marijuana growing operations and dispensaries. The proposed law only requires that marijuana be grown in an "enclosed, locked facility," but it does not set any rules allowing for inspections or audits of growing operations, to
ensure that marijuana grown legally isn't being sold illegally out a back door.
A 2012 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) study in Colorado collected 70 reports over a three-week span from 19 various law enforcement agencies of criminal drug traffickers being caught with often large amounts of medical marijuana, including a number of instances where the drugs had been sold out
the back door of a legal dispensary. “Based on this report, there is evidence that Colorado's regulations are not working and ‘medical’ marijuana is being diverted for recreational purposes,” the report concluded.
The DEA's Denver field office was quoted in the report as saying: “Colorado's medical marijuana system allows for widespread exploitation and illicit marijuana distribution... Colorado is on track to become a primary source of supply for high-grade marijuana throughout the country.” Other states that have legalized medical marijuana are experiencing similar problems.