The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act

Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Fifteenth Norfolk) and a bipartisan group of 11 cosponsors have introduced House No. 2160, a compassionate bill to protect seriously ill patients from being penalized for the doctor-advised, medical use of marijuana and to provide safe access to their medicine.

The legislation is based closely on Rhode Island’s medical marijuana law, which is so uncontroversial that the state’s legislators voted to make it permanent in 2007 by more than 4 to 1. The one aspect of Rhode Island’s law that drew criticism was its failure to set up a safe, regulated distribution system. In June 2009, more than 90% of the Rhode Island General Assembly decided to fix that gap, overriding Gov. Carcieri’s veto and providing for non-profit compassion centers that can dispense medical marijuana to registered patients. Advocates hope House No. 2160 will be modified to be based on Rhode Island’s amended, comprehensive law.

What Would the Legislation Do?

•    House No. 2160 would make a narrow exception to Massachusetts law to allow seriously ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes with their doctors’ recommendations. It would make Massachusetts the 14th state to allow medical marijuana.

•    The public health department would issue medical marijuana ID cards, which make it easy for police to verify that a patient is allowed to use medical marijuana. A patient or caregiver with an ID card and no more than 4 ounces and twelve plants would not be subject to arrest, as long as he or she is in compliance with the law. The ID cards could be revoked for a violation of the law.

•    To qualify for an ID card, a patient would have to submit to the public health department a physician’s written certification that the patient would be likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from marijuana and that the patient has a qualifying condition such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, or a debilitating condition causing severe pain.

•    House No. 2160 would also allow patients to have safe access to their medicine, allowing them to either designate a caregiver to grow their medicine for them or cultivate their own medicine. Advocates hope House No. 2160 will be modified to allow nonprofit state-licensed compassion centers to dispense medical marijuana, similar to those that will be allowed in Rhode Island.

•    House No. 2160 maintains commonsense restrictions, including prohibitions on public use of marijuana and driving under the influence. Employers would not be required to allow patients to be impaired at work or possess marijuana at a workplace.


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