Massachusetts voters may legalize medical marijuana this November
The Auburn Plaza in Auburn, Maine, looks like an average shopping mall. It has a movie theater, dollar store, dental practice and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Every one of the stores has a large overhead sign, except for Remedy Compassion Center, tucked away in an unassuming corner next to Craft-Mania and Big Lots.
The space once housed a furniture store, with a big, open floor-plan and tall ceilings, but now it’s brightly lit and spotlessly clean like a pharmacy. The walls are a purplish-blue and a counter juts out into the middle of the spacious room with a cash register, pipes and a glass case that you’d typically see holding cookies, brownies or cake at a coffee shop.
Somewhere in the building, likely behind an otherwise inconspicuous white door in the back corner, are containers filled with two dozen different strands of marijuana to cover the needs of hundreds of patients.
Remedy Compassion Center is one of Maine’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries sanctioned by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, and one of the first established in New England, a program that John Thiele, Maine’s Medical Marijuana, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programs Manager estimates could serve as many as 6,000 residents suffering from cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Crohn’s disease or debilitating symptoms like nausea, pain and seizures. (The state used to register each patient, but after the program reached 3,000 in September of last year, there were concerns that the state was getting too involved in the patient/doctor relationship, he says.)
(PHOTO: Owner of Remedy Compassion Center Tim Smale. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
Remedy is run and owned by Tim Smale and his wife Jenna. Tim, a former competitive swimmer, uses medical cannibis to keep his migraines in check. Originally from Maine, he has a history with medical marijuana. Formerly an executive at Harborside Health Center in the San Francisco Bay area, he and his wife moved back to start Remedy when Maine legalized the drug for medical purposes.
“I just want to help people understand it’s okay. It’s going to be fine,” he says.
So far, so good, says Thiele, whose department regulates the state’s dispensaries that can have hundreds of patients, and 767 “caregivers” who can grow marijuana for no more than five patients, including themselves.
“I think it’s because we only have eight dispensaries, and we watch them,” Thiele says about the lack of hassle from the United States government, which has continued to raid legalized medical marijuana grow operations in other states. “We’re keeping the number of dispensaries at a level where we’re able to keep an eye on things.”
Maine’s legalization of medical marijuana came as the result of a ballot initiative similar to one that Massachusetts voters will choose “yes” or “no” on in November. Like Maine, the ballot would establish nonprofit medical marijuana centers and their affiliated grow houses for access by patients with prescription notes from their doctors. These programs would be regulated by the state’s Department of Public Health. Also like Maine, it does not require health insurance companies to cover the cost of the drug, and there are restrictions as to where the drug can be smoked, grown and sold.
Dispensary patients pay sales and food taxes, and marijuana costs about $10 to $15 per gram (slightly cheaper than at West Coast dispensaries). Tinctures – liquid dropped under the tongue – and salves, each without the high that comes from smoking marijuana, also cost $15 to $20 each. Tim Smale uses the cream on his sore joints. “It replaces the need for Advil,” he says.
In Maine, Remedy and other dispensaries answered Requests for Proposals from the government, which limits one dispensary to each of Maine’s eight “public health zones,” antiquated boundaries established decades ago. Nonprofits whose RFPs were accepted had to pay a $15,000 fee and find licensing like a standard business, including permission to have a bakery and take-out because the dispensary sells marijuana in edible forms.
The citizen petition Massachusetts residents may vote into law has similarities to Maine’s law. Like our neighbors to the north, Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law will allow for nonprofit centers to cultivate and sell marijuana to patients with a “bona fide” relationship with their prescriptionwriting doctor for similar ailments as listed in Maine’s registration rules (HIV/ AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis “and other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician”).
(PHOTO: Products available at Remedy Compassion Center in Maine. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
Applications to run a dispensary in Massachusetts will need to include the addresses of the center as well as the address of one location where marijuana will be cultivated, operating procedures that include security plans for facilities where marijuana will be stored, and the names of every officer and board member.
While Maine, with it’s population of 1.3 million, has allowed only eight dispensaries (and no limit on caregivers), if the Massachusetts legislation passes as written, it will allow up to 35 medical marijuana treatment centers, with some caveats: each county must have at least one, but no more than five. Individual growers won’t be allowed to cultivate their own unless their access to a nearby treatment center is hindered by finances, disability or transportation.
Even if population ratios support it (Massachusetts’ population is 6.6 million), 35 is still an eye-popping number, and it’s just one factor leading to controversy over this this bill.
IGNORING THE ISSUE
It’s not much of a prediction to say that this ballot question will pass. Polls over the past decade indicate Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly support the legalization of medical marijuana—if not legalization of the drug, plain and simple—and those numbers buoy when put on the ballot on during a presidential election that will turn out younger voters.
Since 2000, there have been nearly 60 nonbinding ballot questions polling various state representative and state senate districts with variations on the legalization theme. All of them, including 2008’s decriminalization law, have passed handily. Ones asking for the legalization of medical marijuana have all passed with 59 percent or higher approving.
These are not numbers to ignore, no matter how much the state legislature has tried.
“It’s only because the legislature didn’t do their job that we have to go to the ballot box,” says Bill Downing, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
It’s not as if law-makers didn’t have the chance. The past few legislative sessions have seen bills related to legalizing marijuana for medical use (and even for legalizing it completely) languish in committee.
“I always prefer that laws be written through the legislative process,” says Amherst Democrat Stanley Rosenberg, who sponsored a bill legalizing medical marijuana this term.
While he says the bill in the legislature is similar to the bill that residents will vote on in November, there are some differences. For instance, the legislature’s version would only allow 15 to 18 dispensaries rather than 35 and, Rosenberg says, less flexibility for doctors to prescribe the drug.
Despite these discrepancies, Rosenberg supports the ballot question.
“We have a very specific public-health goal here,” he says, adding that the polls show people want legalized medical use, but they also “want a tightly regulated system.”
Downing argues that no matter what the polls have shown, legislators refused to work on the bills because the word “marijuana” was in the titles.
“It’s more important to [them] to not touch the marijuana issue than do what [they] were elected to do,” he says.
If the bill passes in November legislators would have some authority to make changes (or even ignore it), though Rosenberg said those are difficult maneuvers especially because “the people” wrote and drafted the law.
And that’s another part of the issue – who’s in charge. While the MassCann membership voted to support the ballot question, there’s still some behind-thescenes criticism of a bill that many in the legalize community have quibbles with. For one, the restrictions on personal cultivation; and two, clear distinctions between two groups of people: long time statewide reform activists and the professional organizers who drafted and fundraise.
Mike Cann, a former MassCann president who now advocates independently via his “Two Hotheads” show on UNregular Radio, says he “really tried to bring two groups of people together.”
Some of these issues stem back from the 2008 decriminalization push, where some felt concessions were made allowing home-rule petitions that could recriminalize marijuana possession through increasing the fine.
Still, Cann, who’s been advocating for legalization for the past decade, says these skirmishes haven’t taken away from the end goal. No one in the movement wants to see patients denied access, he says. “It’s going to pass and it’s going to pass big.”
That’s the MO of the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the group pushing the ballot question that, according to its 2011 campaign finance reports, has a $526,000 campaign chest. $525,000 of that money has come from Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Lewis, an amputee who treats his pain with marijuana. Lewis has personally spent $40 million to $60 million backing medical marijuana initiatives across the country since the 1980s, according to Forbes Magazine.
“The people who have the money write the legislation,” Downing says. “He has goals beyond Massachusetts in mind. [These ballot questions] are written in a way they want to pass, and they want to get big numbers. They want to have slam dunks.”
The proof is in the campaign spending; hundreds of thousands of the campaign’s dollars have gone to some of the state’s top signature gathering and consulting firms.
Still, that doesn’t matter much to most legalize activists, many who say Massachusetts is about four years behind the marijuana legalization movement. Some of the initial quarrels, like the difficulty in growing one’s own marijuana for medicinal use, might also disappear, Downing says, as zoning laws and NIMBY-ism keep dispensaries from appearing.
“We have both sides covered,” says Cann. “We’ve got so many activists, people on the street…This keeps getting bigger and bigger.”
While Maine’s medical marijuana program has had about a year and a half to gain its footing, Massachusetts’ neighbor to the south, Rhode Island, has struggled. Though legalized through the state legislature in 2006, no dispensaries have been licensed, and plans to do so were set back after Governor Lincoln Chafee received a strongly worded letter from the state’s U.S. Attorney’s Office warning that grow operations and investors will still be susceptible to prosecution (though individual users wouldn’t be targeted).
Thiele says Maine received a similar letter when its program began, but timing makes all the difference.
“We had already established our program. Our dispensaries were up and running at the time,” he remembers. Since then, there hasn’t been federal involvement.
The small number of operators, and strict laws, he and Smale add, also help keep the government’s focus on busting facilities in other states with older, and perhaps looser, laws.
“The fear is we’ll repeat the mistakes of California and other states,” Rosenberg says, or these dispensaries will allow a “backdoor approach to recreational use.”
Federal government involvement, rather than popular opinion, seems to be the last hurdle proponents need to tackle.
“The Massachusetts initiative will be the safest medical marijuana law in the country, based on the best practices of 17 other states and the District of Columbia,” reads a statement from the Committee for Compassionate Medicine. “The hallmark of the initiative is state regulation. It requires that doctors writing recommendations have a bona fide relationship with their patients and that the state verifies all recommendations.”
Downing says fears about government involvement are overblown in this case.
“This is a game the federal government can only play for so long,” he says. “They don’t have the resources to police medical marijuana states across the nation,” especially now that over one-third of the states have some kind of program. “Government is not targeting caregivers … with whom a patient is acquainted.”
On July 9, employees at Harborside Health Center, one of the largest dispensaries in the country, found seizure notices on its two buildings courtesy of California’s U.S. attorney, Melinda Haag, who wrote that her office would target large dispensaries, a sentiment U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder agreed with.
Contrary to their fears, Tim Smale says legalized medical marijuana has made Maine safer. The Remedy Compassion Center has brought a security guard and cameras to the Auburn Plaza and the drugs have to be produced cleanly since they’re going into the bodies of people with already compromised immune systems.
“We’re taking pot sales off the street and putting it into the hands of patients who need it,” he says. “We want to show the nation we can safely provide medicinal cannabis products.”
PUTTING DOCTORS IN THE MIDDLE
Pat (whose last name is being withheld) was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during his senior year of college. After surgery that removed six inches of his large intestine and a year of recuperation, he went back to school with bouts of internal swelling, pain, nausea and a loss of appetite.
Now in graduate school in Worcester, Pat still fights his symptoms. He takes 14 pills a day and he’s prescribed Percocet for the pain when the Crohn’s flairs up.
Percocet, however, can add to the nausea, and doesn’t do much for appetites. In the past month, he’s dropped 25 pounds.
“What’s nice about using marijuana for it is the nausea,” he says. “It dulls the pain; it really slows your system down. It gives you your appetite back. It kinda calms down your intestines.”
He uses it irregularly, mostly because the disease flairs up every few weeks and because of concerns that potential employers would make a drug test a condition of employment. During one of his latest fits of pain he wrote a letter to Senator Scott Brown asking him to support legalizing medical marijuana.
“In that instance it would’ve been really nice to smoke some herb,” he says of his last bout.
At this point, it’s not shocking to hear that some patients respond to marijuana as a salve for pain or nausea, but what does the medical community think about a legal way to prescribe it?
Locally, prominent doctors and medical groups have come out against the ballot question.
Earlier this year the Worcester District Medical Society adopted the resolutions passed at the Massachusetts Medical Society meeting in May that laid out a nuanced position against this iteration of legalized marijuana for medicinal use.
Before resolving to oppose the ballot question, the group essentially asked that marijuana be reclassified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “so that it’s potential medicinal use by humans may be further studied and potentially regulated” and that the society supports “the development of nonsmoked, reliable delivery systems for cannabis-derived and cannabinoid medications.”
Until that time, however, they added the Massachusetts Medical Society should “educate the residents of the Commonwealth that there is insufficient scientific information about the safety of marijuana when used for ‘medicinal’ purposes.”
(PHOTO: Worcester District Medical Society Chair Jay Broadhurst. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
“We’re hoping that cooler heads will prevail,” says Jay Broadhurst, chair of the Worcester District Medical Society public health committee and assistant professor of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, about Massachusetts voters’ trends with marijuana ballot questions.
Broadhurst’s main complaints come from the medical community’s lack of study of the drug. For example, there’s nothing to stop him, in confidentiality, from talking to a patient of his about using marijuana as a pain reliever or appetite enhancer, but he says he can’t in good faith recommend it because he doesn’t have information on it like he does with Food and Drug Administration approved drugs.
“I cannot give you information about its safety or scientific information about its effectiveness,” he says. “How are you, as a physician, to make any responsible decision about dosing?”
Though Tim Smale insists that having nonprofit medical centers would provide the best patient care when it comes to medical marijuana (a term Broadhurst calls a “gross misrepresentation”), Broadhurst disagrees.
“If this stuff is medicine, we’ve already got entities that create medicine. They’re called pharmaceutical companies. We’ve already got entities that dispense medicine. They’re called pharmacies.”
As for the bill itself, he’s not thrilled with the language, because he says it fails to adequately restrict the amount of marijuana that can be prescribed and for what reasons.
“Medically, this makes no sense at all,” he says. “There is no reason to put physicians in the middle of this thing” until it’s treated as an FDA approved (or rejected) drug.
Recently, calls from the scientific community have taken the government to task for limiting experiments on validating or refuting the medicinal impacts of marijuana.
A University of California - San Diego study, notably partially funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services and published in the Open Neurology Journal this summer, takes the government to task for harshly classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which makes it hard to obtain it for medical tests.
“As these therapeutic potentials are confirmed, it will be useful if marijuana and its constituents can be prescribed, dispensed, and regulated in a manner similar to other medications that have psychotropic effects and some abuse potential,” the study reports. “The continuing conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology will hopefully be reconciled in a judicious manner.”
Dr. Michael Hirsh, Worcester’s commissioner of public health, and president of the Worcester District Medical Society, agrees.
“We really did take some direction from the Worcester District Medical Society,” he says, in formulating a city Department of Public Health position. “As physicians it just did not seem it was practical to prescribe this” because of a lack of FDA involvement.
Hirsh instead would ask patients suffering from pain and nausea to try outlets already available to them, from prescription drugs to working with hospice and other pain-management programs.
“I would prefer grappling with problems related to prescription opioids than take on the new problem of marijuana prescription,” he says, when asked if it’s a suitable replacement for highly addictive pain medication.
“That’s the reason kids think pills are safe and heroin’s dangerous,” Broadhurst says when asked if more patients will be comfortable broaching the subject of marijuana with him if legalized, “because a doctor prescribes them.”
At the policy level, Hirsh says the new law would “force public health departments to be more aggressive and monitor whether medical marijuana laws increase the use of marijuana” and if it leads to an increase in fatalities or “an extra burden on the police department.”
For Broadhurst, it’s just an end around to a bigger question: legalization.
“That’s a very different discussion,” he says. He cites preliminary data about the drug’s effects on the development of the adolescent brain but adds, “I’m from Worcester. People in Worcester tend to have something of a libertarian streak. If we want to have a debate about legalizing marijuana, let’s have it but let’s not do it through the backdoor and put me, as a physician, in the middle of it.”
Still, Tim Smale believes Maine has gone about the legalization in the right way: keeping control in the hands of a nonprofit, requiring doctor-patient relationships and offering smoke-free and high-free alternatives. (For many, it’s not all about smoking. Pat says he’d like to come across marijuana in pill form.)
In a lot of ways, with the mixture of state and federal laws the way they are, no one wins. Those against legalizing marijuana in any form are slowly losing as popular opinion chips away at prohibition. Care providers lose because there’s no guarantee that their facility won’t be raided by the feds. Doctors lose because the federal government still refuses to take the exploration of the drug’s medicinal properties seriously, and patients still face stigmatization and access issues.
Voting yes or no in November on the ballot question won’t change much of this, but it’ll be another reminder to politicians that this is one uncomfortable topic that they can’t avoid forever.
THE GRASS ON THE OTHER SIDE
Releaf Magazine June 2012
Just as young children look to their parents for their rules and guidelines, we have been brainwashed as adults into thinking our government must provide us with the same type of authority. Instead of telling the government how we want to live our lives and the rules they must follow, we look to them to decide if our actions are right or wrong. This is apparent as our Bill of Rights and the Constitution continue to wither away in front of our eyes. It is also blatant in the prohibition of cannabis. 17 states have enacted a medical marijuana program, 15 states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis, while over 50% of the country supports legalization of cannabis. While these numbers seem encouraging and may show progression in the cannabis movement, it also shows the power we give up by letting the government decide how cannabis should be regulated. It places Americans in a position where they must settle for less than they deserve and still fall victim to the mercy of a cannabis monopoly. In dry states, the DEA has and will continue to control the monopoly. The free enterprise of the California medical system has been viewed by some as the ‘wild west,’ leading to tighter regulation in other states that implement medical marijuana programs. The leniency of the California program allowed for many California residents to realize large financial gains by starting new businesses and engaging in cannabis related commerce. Wait….Americans making a living for themselves off of the land, growing plants that can heal and provide for self sufficiency? In today’s society it seems too good to be true, and unfortunately it will be for many states moving forward. That’s not what we are lead to believe though, just look at the picture that is being painted. Most states considering medical legislation immediately see opposition from those referencing the “flaws” in the California system. This has lead to private interest groups finding a backdoor into the driver’s seat of a cannabis monopoly. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Massachusetts which has multiple bills calling for medical marijuana being legal for its citizens. The bills that have no support are the bills that give patients the rights to provide for themselves, or appoint their own caregiver to provide for them. The bill that has support from the “for profit” patient’s organization is backed by a corporate giant with interest in keeping growing rights away from patients and put directly into the hands of corporations. I will say this as clearly and as blunt as I can: when you grow your own medicine for yourself, no one makes money from it. Sure, you may be better off as an individual, but as stated earlier, the government tells us how, what and when we can chew, rather than we pick out our own piece to chew on. So, to those living in a state without a medical marijuana program ready to support any bill that offers legalization, I will offer the following advice: the grass might look greener on the other side, but check to see if its fertilized with bullshit.
The Urban Alchemist
Ohio billionaire bankrolling Mass. marijuana question
Money over common sense, the American way. -UA
BOSTON - A proposed ballot question that would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in Massachusetts is being bankrolled almost entirely by an Ohio billionaire who has backed similar efforts in other states.
According to state campaign finance reports, Peter Lewis, chairman of the board of the auto insurer Progressive Corp. contributed $525,000 to the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, which is supporting the question.
That accounted for virtually all the $526,167 raised by the group in 2011.
Lewis has also backed pro-marijuana efforts in Ohio and Washington.
The Massachusetts ballot question would allow patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis to get permission from their doctors to use marijuana.
The plan also calls for the state to register up to 35 nonprofit medical treatment centers around the state to distribute the marijuana.
A public relations firm representing the Committee for Compassionate Medicine said the goal of the question is "to ensure that Massachusetts patients have the same access to the necessary medical resources to fight debilitating diseases that are available in sixteen other states."
"Peter Lewis and others have provided the initial funding to ensure the Committee for Compassionate Medicine qualified for the November 2012 ballot and to establish a grassroots political organization and fundraising infrastructure for that effort," the statement said.
With that financial boost, the group is hoping to draw thousands of supporters to help convince voters to approve the measure if it reaches the November ballot.
Critics of medical marijuana initiatives say weakening the prohibition against the drug could send the message to young people that smoking pot is no big deal, ultimately encouraging more teens to experiment both with marijuana and harder drugs.
Under the ballot question, the new treatment centers would be authorized to acquire, cultivate, possess and process marijuana, including the development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils, or ointments.
Those patients allowed to possess marijuana would be issued registration cards by the state Department of Public Health after a physician determines in writing that they have one of the qualifying medical conditions.
Nothing in the ballot question changes state laws against driving under the influence, forces health insurers to cover the expense of the marijuana, or requires employers to allow for on-site medical use of marijuana.
The bulk of the money contributed by Lewis - $350,000 - went to hire professional signature gatherers to collect the tens of thousands of signatures needed to guarantee the question a spot on the November ballot.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts also received $9,000 in consulting fees, according to the records with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
It’s not the first time Lewis has waded into the debate about expanding access to marijuana.
Lewis is helping fund a campaign in Washington state to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use.
That question - which would create a system of state-licensed growers, processors and stores, and impose a 25 percent excise tax on wholesale and retail sales of marijuana - appears headed for the November ballot in Washington.
And in his home state of Ohio, Lewis said last year that he was seeking proposals for a medical marijuana ballot issue for 2012.
Last month, backers of a ballot question to legalize medical marijuana were given the OK by the Ohio attorney general’s office to begin collecting signatures to put it on the November ballot.
The amendment to Ohio’s constitution would also allow those with a debilitating medical condition - including cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and Crohn’s disease - to use, possess, produce and acquire marijuana and paraphernalia.
It would also authorize vendors to make and distribute the otherwise illegal drug and set up a state oversight commission.
If the Massachusetts question lands on the November ballot it won’t be the first time that voters here have been asked to change state law regarding the drug. Generally they have been receptive.
In 2008, Massachusetts voters overwhelming backed a 2008 initiative which decriminalized the possession of an ounce of less of marijuana. The law instituted a $100 civil fine instead.
Then in 2010, advocates placed 18 nonbinding advisory questions on local ballots in communities across the state to get a sense whether Massachusetts voters would support another overhaul of marijuana laws.
Nine of the questions supported the use of marijuana for medical reasons while another nine backed legalizing the drug outright, allowing the state to regulate and tax it.
Voters responded to the questions with a resounding "yes." Support ranged from 54 percent in some districts to up to 70 percent in others.
Sánchez to halt medical pot bill
By John Ruch
Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez once again is poised to halt a bill that would legalize medical-use marijuana.
His annual killing of the proposal has angered local and statewide marijuana activists. But this time, those activists seem to be focused more on their own efforts to make medical marijuana legalization a ballot question.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, which is used to treat nausea and pain in such diseases as cancer and AIDS. But, Sánchez told the Gazette, he remains concerned about how those laws conflict with the federal ban on pot.
“The federal government still reserves its right to bang on people’s door and arrest them, despite state laws,” Sánchez said, adding that cities could get in legal trouble as well. The federal government needs to take a clearer stand on the issue, he said.
“I’m not inherently disposed to say no [to medical marijuana legalization],” he said. “I don’t question the science and the potential wellness benefits. But the challenge lies in the dispensing.”
“Patients deserve the same access to necessary medical resources to fight debilitating diseases that are available in 16 other states across the country,” said Whitney Taylor of the pro-medical marijuana group the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance in a written statement to the Gazette. Taylor’s statement began with a reference to the MPAA’s ongoing ballot question initiative, which reportedly already has attracted more than 100,000 petition-signers.
Voters forced the state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in a 2008 ballot question. About 78 percent of JP voters backed that idea.
Jeff Herman, a JP activist who ran against Sánchez in 2010, was among those testifying in favor of the medical marijuana legalization this year.
Every year, some type of medical marijuana legalization bill comes before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health, which Sánchez chairs. He has sent those bills to “study,” effectively killing them. The most recent version, expected to be sent to study sometime between now and May, is House Bill 625, which would create nonprofit centers where patients could get medical marijuana with a prescription and an identity card. “I haven’t heard anything new” regarding how the legalization squares with federal law, Sánchez said.
Other types of marijuana legalization proposals have come before the legislature’s judiciary committee and similarly have gone nowhere
Marijuana use fine proposed
Those caught in public with drug would pay $300
By Dyke Hendrickson Staff Writer
NEWBURYPORT — A measure that would impose a fine on anyone who gets caught smoking marijuana in public in Newburyport is going before the City Council tonight.
Councilor Brian Derrivan, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, is expected to introduce a new ordinance imposing a $300 local fine on anyone smoking, ingesting or otherwise using or consuming marijuana while in a public place.
According to a letter from Andrea Egmont, the city's director of youth and recreational services, more than 60 communities throughout Massachusetts have already adopted similar ordinances.
Egmont said that since Massachusetts lessened the use laws in 2009, decriminalizing the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, "the (new) policy has changed the perception of risk by both teens and adults."
"We have heard time and time again from young people that 'it's legal,' 'it's natural' and 'everyone does it,'" she said.
Egmont said Newburyport High School officials have reported to the BEACON Coalition that since September, as many as 10 students have had expulsion hearings connected with having marijuana on school property. In addition, the coalition, which aims to decrease underage use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in Newburyport to produce a healthier community, is hearing more reports of driving while under the influence of marijuana.
The proposed ordinance would make pot use in public places akin to the open container law for alcohol and would allow more enforcement "in situations such as waterfront concerts, sports events and other public events as well as public spaces such as the boardwalk, Inn Street and local parks," she said.
"Whether people are pro- or anti-reform, this ordinance is created to protect members of our community who choose not to participate," she said. "This ordinance would help to protect people's rights to a healthy environment."
Derrivan could not be reached for comment. The City Council meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall.
In addition to the marijuana ordinance, a proposal to rezone about 4 acres on Storey Avenue, near the intersection with Low Street, to permit a possible CVS pharmacy will be back before the council.
The rezoning failed to get the two-thirds majority vote required for its passage at the last council meeting. But Councilor Ari Herzog availed himself of a special local rule to bring it back for more discussion.
Several financial measures are also on the agenda, including a routine request for a budget supplement from Mayor Donna Holaday and a tax rate order that will address financial needs for the upcoming year.
In addition, the council will deal with an order calling for financing for a new phase of the wastewater treatment plant
Bylaw against marijuana ready to begin in Raynham
The people and law have spoken, why is this still a priority? -UA
The marijuana bylaw was approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, said Town Administrator Randall Buckner during a Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. The vast majority of about 200 residents at Raynham’s Annual Town Meeting in May passed the bylaw, which allows police to impose a $300 fine for the public consumption of marijuana.
Buckner said now the town needs to publish the law and it will take effect retroactively to the Attorney General’s recent approval.
Raynham’s marijuana bylaw comes in addition to a $100 civil penalty Massachusetts instituted through a statewide vote to decriminalize marijuana in November 2008. Raynham Police Chief James Donovan previously called the public consumption of marijuana a “quality of life” issue that especially effects renters in apartment buildings.
In addition to the marijuana bylaw, a bylaw amendment making the Raynham town treasurer into an appointed position was approved by the Attorney General, Buckner said. Before a Town Meeting vote brought in the amendment, the town treasurer was an elected position until voters decided at the Town Meeting that it should be an appointed position.
The majority of Tuesday’s 30-minute meeting dealt with back payments owed to the Raynham Police Department for details at the Peddler’s Loft bar.
Selectman Joseph Pacheco told Peddler’s Loft owner Matt Cummings that the town of Raynham cannot be treated like “a credit card” for the business.
Cummings explained that the current economic situation has affected revenues at his business. He said that on some nights when entertainment is provided — especially in the summer when business is down — the police detail takes 70 percent of gross income made at Peddler’s Loft.
Cummings also said it was unfair he is required to provide police detail on any night when there is entertainment, when similar businesses in the town are not. Cummings added that in spite of his regular payment history — up until this summer, when he fell behind due emergency maintenance on a busted air conditioning system — he is “barraged” with calls from the Raynham Police Department with “threats to revoke” his license.
Cummings said he paid the police $9,200 in the past five years, while he is now 30 days late on a $1,388 bill, after two checks to the police are cashed, and he is planning on paying the balance soon.
The Board of Selectmen, Donovan and Cummings agreed that the next bill could be paid at the end of August after not having entertainment or police details there for the rest of the month.
The Board also said that the Raynham Athletic Club, which was pursuing one-day licenses to serve beer and wine for weekend pool events, has decided against it after given the license on a trial basis for a few days in July.
The board also commended Raynham Fire Chief James Januse for becoming the new State Task Force Mobilization Coordinator for District 3. The selectmen said the position entails coordinating services during emergencies that effect multiple communities in the area.
Natick men allegedly received 15 pounds of marijuana in the mail
They are obviously hip to this whole concept. Go get some lights, some seeds and some coco. It is not that hard to do. -UA
By Amanda Cedrone, Globe Correspondent
James Auerbach, 68, and Thomas Frank Barnes, 38, were arrested Monday afternoon at their 13 Spruce Lane apartment, Natick Police Lieutenant Brian Grassey said. Natick police were tipped off by the US Postal Inspection Service, which determined that a parcel addressed to Auerbach contained marijuana.
A search of the apartment revealed six more pounds of marijuana, about $50,000 in cash, and a handgun.
The two men were held overnight at the Natick Police Department and are being arraigned in Framingham District Court this afternoon.
State's marijuana law not paying off
POLICE: COLLECTING FINES NOT SO EASY
Maybe the cops will finally get our message: WE ARE DONE WITH PROHIBITION. Decrim and prohibition do not work. THERE IS NO MORE MARIJUANA MONEY FOR YOU COPS! GO FIND RAPISTS, GANG MEMBERS AND THIEVES! -UA
The money is actually in the form of 126 unpaid citations levied on people fined for being caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. Two of the citations were written by state police, with Leicester officers issuing the other 124.
Ever since voters passed a referendum in 2008 that made possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil offense, police continue to complain about the law not having enough teeth to enforce it and collect the fines.
“We’ve lost money on every single one of those citations,” Leicester Police Chief James J. Hurley said of the stack of unpaid citations. “One of the things that the Question Two proponents were selling at the time was that this was going to bring money into the towns.”
The ballot measure, passed in November 2008 does not force offenders to identify themselves to police, nor does it enforce a way to pay fines. Officials say it leaves them without any way to collect the $100 citations. Printing and processing the citations comes at a cost upfront, Chief Hurley said. His department has laid off eight part-time officers, returned software and gotten rid of a leased motorcycle for patrol. He just took a 2 percent budget cut. The citation money could have helped, he said.
It may be funny when voters write-in Mickey Mouse and Superman for town moderator. It is less so when those are the kind of names people give police.
“Joe Blow, Yogi Bear, there are a number of different names chiefs have citations written out for,” Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association executive director A. Wayne Sampson said. “I heard chiefs complaining they weren’t getting any results, especially when they knew somebody gave them a false name.”
Citations obtained from the city of Worcester show 58 were issued from Sept. 11, 2009, to March 3, 2011. A total of 37 people had paid the fines.
The statistics show state police issued the majority of the citations in the city, with 36. Worcester State University Police follow next with 13, and Worcester Police have issued 8. One citation did not have an agency listed.
Several departments say they don’t see a lot of fake names. Officers tend to know people in town. The biggest problem is collecting the cash.
“There is no mechanism in place for collecting the fine,” Worcester Police spokesman Sgt. Kerry F. Hazelhurst said. “That is where the problem lies. It is hard to enforce when there are loopholes in the law that hinders collection of the fines.”
Dudley police have issued 22 citations from Dec. 1, 2010, to June 16, 2011, and so far 14 have been paid. With police department budgets tight across the state, any extra cash is needed, especially when the person was cited for the violation, Dudley Police Chief Steven J. Wojnar said.
Fines for not paying for a dog license could end up in court, and someone could have a warrant issued for nonpayment, the chief noted. It is not the case for the marijuana citation.
“It would have been better if the law was stepped back and the kinks worked out,” Chief Wojnar said.
Having people deny identifying themselves to police is hard to believe for lawyer Steven Epstein, spokesman for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. Police carry a badge, baton and gun, and most people aren’t going to say no, he said.
“Someone who has that equipment on is going to get your name,” he said. “Will some people be sharp enough to give a fake name? Sure.”
In some cases, someone carrying less than an ounce of pot are committing some other crime or driving offense. In those instances, police can retrieve the person’s name anyway.
Getting people to pay the fines is simple, Mr. Epstein said; just take them to small claims court.
With most civil citations, such as speeding tickets or parking violations, police can levy criminal charges or driver’s licenses and car registrations cannot be renewed. That isn’t an option for the marijuana citation.
There is a price that comes with taking someone to small claims court. Add the cost of having an officer in the court for the case, and municipalities will pay more than what they get back in the $100 citation, police said.
Chief Hurley said his department is working with Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield to see if an exemption stipulation applies to the town.
There is a bill filed with the state Senate involving the decriminalization of minor offenses that would allow police to better enforce the marijuana citations, said Mr. Sampson. The police chiefs group has supportedthe bill, which has received backing from multiple state legislators.
The bill was not proposed solely because of the marijuana citations, but was filed more for civil infractions, and lessening overcrowding and court costs statewide.
Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, a backer of the bill, which will be heard Wednesday by the the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government, said the bill would give officers the discretion on minor offenses to chose between issuing a civil infraction, or using court action.
The bill would save communities money, as well as the state. It costs money for prosecutors and state-appointed attorneys when someone is brought to court, he said. Court staff also has to process the case.
Chief Hurley doesn’t believe voters understood all the nuances of the referendum before it passed.
“I can’t believe voters knew they were getting into this quagmire,” he said. “It you’re going to pass a law and ask law enforcement agencies to enforce it, then make the law enforceable.”