BOSTON, MA — Marijuana reform activists in Massachusetts are hopeful that 2012 will finally bring a long anticipated medical marijuana law to the Bay State, but which bill will become law is yet to be determined.
There are presently four separate medical marijuana proposals pending on Beacon Hill for legislators to consider in 2012. There is also a campaign underway to place a medical marijuana referendum on the November ballot for Bay State voters, similar to the initiative “Question 2″, which decriminalization possession of marijuana in November 2008, passing with a overwhelming 65% approval.
One of the bills in consideration by Bay State legislators is Senate Bill No. 818, “An Act Relative to the Arrest and Prosecution for the Possession of Marihuana for Medical Purposes.” The bill, which has been introduced to the State Legislature every year since 2002, would make Massachusetts’ non-implemented medical law, Chapter 94D, effective by allowing patients and caregivers the ability to grow marijuana.
Chapter 94D, which protects medical marijuana patients from prosecution, passed in December 1991 and was signed into law by then Governor William Weld in 1992, four years before California voters passed Proposition 215. But in the twenty years since its passing, the law has never been implemented because it calls for a federally authorized supply of marijuana, which does not exist in the United States.
Senate Bill 818 has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing and is unlikely to pass.
More recently, two bills were introduced last year, Senate Bill No. 1161 and the identical House Bill No. 625. These two bills have the most sponsors among legislators in the House and Senate, and support from marijuana reform organizations and hopeful future patients. The bills, if passed, would create the “Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Act”, and set up an entirely new medical marijuana system in Massachusetts, rendering Chapter 94D obsolete. Both bills call for a patient registration system, and allow for home cultivation, as well as state-supervised “Medical Treatment Centers.”
The bills also protect visiting patients participating in medical marijuana programs in other states, provided they are in possession of a valid identification card. This would allow medical marijuana patients from other states to obtain medicine while visiting Massachusetts, which advocates say is of major importance in a state containing world-renown hospitals, visited by thousands of patients yearly for treatment of their ailments.
Testimony on both bills was heard in June, 2011, by the Joint Committee on Public Health, and neither bill has moved beyond the committee as of yet.
The final bill before Beacon Hill lawmakers is An Initiative Petition for a Law for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana. This bill, if not enacted by the legislature, will appear before Bay State voters in November.
With progressive voters in Massachusetts, it is likely to pass, although some activists in Massachusetts have criticized flaws in the bill, while others remain confused about provisions within.
Likely to cause debate among proponents and opponents alike, the initiative only initially allows cultivation by patients if no Medical Treatment Center is open. The initiative calls for the Department of Public health to issue regulations that will determine who is eligible to grow their own medicine within 120 days of the bill becoming law. If implementation is delayed, then a written doctor’s recommendation will continue to offer protection from prosecution by state and local law enforcement agencies until all rules and regulations are established.
Unlike the aforementioned Senate Bill 1161 and House Bill 625, the initiative petition does not allow for reciprocity from other medical marijuana states. If a legitimate patient from another state visits Massachusetts hospitals for treatment for their ailments, they would not be able to obtain medical marijuana legally.
Nevertheless, advocates agree that the initiative will appear on the November ballot, will likely pass with upwards of a 75% approval vote, and medical marijuana will become legal in Massachusetts in January, 2013.