Introducing Senator Buzzkill’s new pot bill

Common Sensi
By ARIEL SHEARER  |  January 8, 2013

Back in November, the people of Massachusetts circumvented their elected lawmakers by legalizing medical marijuana through a ballot measure. But now, just as the changes outlined by Question 3 are taking effect, one legislator is rolling out a bill — the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act — that would establish a system drastically different from the one voted on in November, taking away patients' ability to grow their own supply and eliminating retail dispensaries completely.

Quincy senator John F. Keenan is a vocal marijuana opponent, and he says he's introducing the 21-page overhaul of Question 3 before the end of next week.

"I don't think the vote is a fair reflection of what people actually expected," Keenan says. "It's clear that they were in favor of the concept of medical marijuana, but as they see this now unfolding and become more aware of the lack of details . . . people have concerns about how it's going to be implemented."

Under Keenan's bill, marijuana prescriptions would be filled by mail courier, rather than through retail dispensaries. There would be no hardship cultivation registrations allowing patients to grow their own supplies, and the Department of Public Health (DPH) would have the power to license fewer than 10 growers in the entire state.

Moreover, under the current law, only a physician can decide whether to treat a patient with marijuana. Keenan's bill would take that decision out of doctors' hands, giving the DPH final say over what medical conditions would be eligible to be treated with marijuana.

Shaleen Title, a local lawyer working for a Colorado-based firm that specializes in marijuana law, says she would be surprised to see this bill gain traction. Question 3 "was well drafted," she says. "The strong mandate from voters shows that."

But Keenan has already picked up at least one unlikely ally: Amherst senator Stanley Rosenberg.

Rosenberg and Keenan had long been on opposite sides of the marijuana debate; Rosenberg even introduced a medical-marijuana-legalization bill in 2011, which, if it had passed, could have licensed as many as 19 dispensaries within 190 days of taking effect. And while Keenan campaigned against Question 3, Rosenberg campaigned for it.

But Rosenberg says he's now seriously inclined to support Keenan's much more rigid program.

"I'm almost certainly going to sign on to it," says Rosenberg. "I'm looking for a solution to a couple problems he's addressing."

Rosenberg says marijuana advocates asked him to endorse Question 3 after pitching him a ballot measure based on his 2011 bill. He says he agreed to endorse the ballot initiative contingent on the advocates' agreeing not to drastically alter the provisions in his bill.

"I feel very much aggrieved here," Rosenberg says. "I campaigned for the question based on that."

He says it wasn't until roughly a month before the election that they made the changes to Question 3 that he fears will open the back door to recreational marijuana.

"They gave doctors the ability to determine, without requiring medical or scientific evidence, what conditions this could be prescribed for, and the DPH has no say," Rosenberg explains, adding that he's also disappointed with the hardship cultivation provision. "I could imagine that a very large number of people could claim hardship and be granted." He says there's no control over where those plants and seeds are going.

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