Prescription Pothole

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  April 25, 2012

But money doesn't seem to be an issue. Medical marijuana has an angel with deep pockets: Peter Lewis, chairman of the Ohio-based Progressive Insurance. He spent more than $500,000 on last year's signature-gathering and public-relations effort in Massachusetts, and is expected to be willing to see things through to the end.

It's not an effort problem, either, advocates say; they would simply prefer that the law be enacted the normal way, through the deliberative legislative process.

And they find it baffling that the legislature won't act on what, to them, is a no-brainer.

As the doctors and patients who testified at the recent hearing made clear, there are people who are suffering who are denied relief for no reason — or worse, are forced to take risks to get their product from illegal dealers, when their doctors are perfectly willing to write them a prescription.

But it's not quite that simple. The state law would still run afoul of federal law, and the Obama administration — and Attorney General Eric Holder — have demonstrated a willingness to come in and arrest growers and sellers for participating in a scheme established by the state.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has postponed implementation of that state's laws because of that concern. Chafee and several other governors have petitioned the Drug Enforcement Administration to reclassify marijuana as a drug with medicinal uses.

"The conflict exists between enacting state laws, and federal authorities saying they're going to raid people," Sanchez says. "We'd be putting well-intentioned citizens on a tightrope."

Advocates concede the point, but argue that the Justice Department has only acted when states have loosely controlled systems and large-scale commercial growers.

"The Obama administration has taken a strong stance," says Morgan Fox, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, "but hasn't done so in states where it's tightly regulated."

READY FOR A FIGHT

Whitney Taylor of ACLU-Massachusetts says that the initiative being considered here draws from the lessons of all the efforts that have gone before, and adds levels of protection above and beyond them.

Still, the fear of federal action is legitimate. It could also be a strong argument for opponents, including the state's district attorneys, to use in waging a serious PR and advertising blitz against the initiative, as they did against the decriminalization effort.

Both sides are ready for that fight, which seems almost inevitable.

That may not be welcome news to those who will be campaigning this fall — most notably US Senator Scott Brown and his likely Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren — who will surely be asked where they stand on the ballot questions.

Both have so far declined to take a position — putting them right in line with most other state pols, unwilling to take sides with 80 percent of their constituents.

To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at  dbernstein@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.

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