How to toke if you're broke

Burning Questions
By VALERIE VANDE PANNE  |  December 18, 2012

burningquestions_1
Welcome to "Burning Questions," the first in a series devoted to your medical-marijuana FAQs.

I am completely healthy, but where can I get a diagnosis of glaucoma?
— STOKED IN SOMERVILLE

If you are completely healthy, but seek to get a diagnosis for a serious illness to get a medical-marijuana recommendation, "That's fraud," says Joshua Krefetz, attorney with the #mmj-friendly Allston firm Krefetz & Seed.

Under the new law, the fraudulent use of a medical-marijuana registration card or cultivation registration is a misdemeanor. If the fraudulent use is for distribution or for-profit sale, and for non-medical use, it's a felony carrying a sentence of up to five years in state prison.

Mike Crawford, a/k/a "Mike Cann," cohost of unregularradio.com's show Two Hotheads: Where Activism Happens, says activists do not want people who are healthy being used as poster children by prohibitionists who assert medical marijuana is a sham.

However, "the only way to protect yourself is to get a medical card," Crawford says, recognizing that many recreational users may try to get a medical recommendation. Since neither prohibitionists nor activists want that, he believes the only sensible option is legalization. No one, says Crawford, should go to jail for marijuana.

Until it is legalized, remember that simple possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for your personal recreational use is decriminalized in Massachusetts.

How will poor people on disability and food stamps, etc., obtain it?
— CLASS CONSCIOUS IN ALLSTON

"Patients with demonstrated financial need will have permission to grow enough for their personal medical needs," explains Matt Allen, executive director of Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.

That sounds good, say activists, but the cost of a doctor's visit for the recommendation can run about $200. Cultivating a sufficient supply of medical marijuana for yourself can run anywhere from $500 to $1000. For those on a limited income, these costs can be prohibitive.

Could the new law make pot cheaper? In Colorado, where hundreds of dispensaries compete in a for-profit system, the market has driven the price down to $15 for an eighth of an ounce of medical marijuana. An ounce can cost as low as $115, about one-fourth of what you'd pay on the Massachusetts black market.

But Massachusetts will have a not-for-profit system with a limited number of dispensaries. This will probably encourage prices to stay at the black-market level.

And while pharmaceutical drugs are often covered, at least in part, by insurance plans, medical marijuana at this time is not. Nor is it covered by MassHealth, Medicaid, food stamps, or any other government-subsidized program — forcing everyone, including low-income sick people, to pay for it out of pocket.

Maine and Rhode Island also have non-profit dispensary systems, and patients and their caregivers have found creative, community-based solutions to the affordability problem.

Charles Wynott, of Portland, Maine, is a low-income AIDS patient. He's spent over a decade helping low-income people in hospice and with AIDS obtain medical marijuana by connecting them with compassionate "caregivers," who sell their product for $100 to $200 an ounce. Caregivers in Maine can only produce medical marijuana for five patients at a time. Wynott seeks caregivers who will cultivate for one of their five patients at a discount.

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