Sunday November 4, 2012

Medical marijuana has helped and is helping people cope with cancer and other debilitating illnesses -- but that is not the issue on the ballot Tuesday. The issue is the establishment of a mechanism to enable patients to access medical marijuana, and unlike Question 2, advocates have not come up with a law that remotely addresses potential problems.

The law is vague and full of loopholes, and there is no way to close them before it takes effect if passed on Jan. 1, 2013. While doctors are required to prescribe specific dosages of pain-killing pills for a finite period, they would only issue medical marijuana cards, which are not monitored by any agency, have no age limits and no expiration dates. It would be possible for doctors to issue the cards for just about every ailment from cancer to minor headaches. The card system invites abuse.

The law calls for the creation of 35 "treatment centers," which as non-profits, would not be subject to local property and sales taxes, even if highly profitable. Worse, the centers would not be subject to any local zoning laws and could be placed anywhere. As ugly as the fight in Pittsfield over the siting of a methadone clinic has been, the emergence downtown of a medical marijuana treatment center impervious to local regulation would potentially be a far larger nightmare.

The law would require the state De partment of Public Health to regulate the new medical marijuana industry, which it is no way equipped to do. Enabling the DPH to do so would involve a significant budget increase paid for by taxpayers. These are among the reasons that California and Colorado are trying with little success to undo the damage done by their medical marijuana laws. It must be emphasized that Question 3 is binding (as are Questions 1 and 2).

While the Federal Drug Administration does not conduct research on marijuana because it is illegal, independent research ers are working to break down the components of marijuana and isolate its medicinal value so it can be offered to patients in legal form. This is the path to follow. The negatives of this proposed law far outweigh the positives, and The Eagle urges a No vote on Question 3.