Wednesday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health selected Alternative Therapies Group Inc. as the first company authorized to grow and dispense medical marijuana. This is a massive milestone in the long fought battle to carry out the state’s 2012 medical marijuana law. There does not seem to be any specific events that finally kicked officials into gear, hopefully it was the repeated cries of help from families in need that were not getting any response from officials.
Alternative Therapies Group Inc. will operate a medical marijuana dispensary at 50 Grove St. in Salem and a cultivation facility at 10 Industrial Way, Amesbury.
Patients still face a lengthy wait to actually attain medical marijuana. Alternative Therapies Group estimated an initial harvest time of at least three months following further reviews, including product testing and proposed transportation plans.
Nichole Snow, deputy director of Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, a medical marijuana advocacy group. stated,
“I am overwhelmed with joy. It means that myself as a patient and other patients will have safe access to their much-needed medication. This is an exciting first step.”
The implementation of the dispensary approval and licensing process has been delayed multiple times after concerns were expressed about possible corruption and conflicts of interest. Contractors responsible for vetting dispensary applications have reportedly been pressured when examining some applicants, and another contractor failed to discover that one applicant had previously lost their marijuana license in Colorado because of multiple violations.
Karen O’Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project commented,
“I have heard of minor complications in other states. But I have not seen anything that raised eyebrows… like in Massachusetts.”
While the past does not give much hope for the future of the Massachusetts medical marijuana program, we can only hope this is a step in the right direction.
Voters approved the medical marijuana law in November 2012. Through the voter approved amendment, the state of Massachusetts is permitted to issue up to thirty five licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. It is now two years later, and the state program has not covered much ground. So far, zero of the applicants have moved to the final steps of the lengthy approval process, and only eleven applicants remain in the inspection phase of the process.
Medical marijuana patients in the state are suffering because none of the dispensaries have been able to open doors of operation yet because of government office delays and back peddling on regulatory functions. Patients are being forced to break the law by purchasing medicine on the black market.
One such patient, Gerald Canty, survived leukemia and lost his leg in a car crash. As a result he suffers from chronic pain in his joints, bones and muscles, and because of that has difficulty doing day to day activities. He told local news, WGBH, that medical marijuana provides symptom relief better than any pill on the market without the side effects associated with pharmaceuticals. Canty is frustrated because he has to find medicine on the street, and has to make his own marijuana concentrates. He would much rather obtain his medicine through a state licensed, professional distributor.
Another patient and known advocate, Dr. Peter Hayashi, was injured by a surgical mistake that results in chronic nerve pain and acute sensitivity to touch and temperature changes on the right side of his body. He told WGBH that even a small amount of medical marijuana will keep his symptoms at bay, allowing him to go about his daily activities like making dinner, reading a book and helping his son with homework. Dr. Hayashi is frustrated because he does not have a caregiver to grow for him, and none of the state licensed dispensaries have started cultivating yet because of delays in application processing. He fears being arrested for obtaining medicine on the black market.
Its not just adult medical marijuana patients who are suffering while waiting in limbo. Children are also suffering. During a rally in Cape Cod last month, medical marijuana patients gathered to demand immediate implementation of the state medical marijuana program. During the rally, Cape Cod Today spoke with many patients and advocates. One such advocate is Jill Osborne, a resident of Georgetown, Massachusetts whose daughter suffers from a severe case of epilepsy. Jill and her doctor are confident that medical marijuana would significantly reduce the number of seizures her daughter has each day, just as it has helped so many children in Colorado who suffer from the same condition. Jill and her family chose to remain in Massachusetts when the medical marijuana bill was approved by voters, as opposed to moving to Colorado as so many other families have been forced to do in order to obtain medicine. Now they have spent two years suffering while waiting for the program to begin. Referring to the state public health officials, Jill told Cape Cod Today,
“They’re allowing her life to be in danger every day.”
In response to disgruntled patients, Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary, John Polanowicz, told Cape Cod Today,
“Providing safe patient access is a priority of the program, and we are proud that dispensaries are now in the final Inspection Phase prior to opening. Once dispensaries pass inspection and meet local requirements, they will be ready to start growing and preparing to open.”
Unfortunately, many patients do not have confidence that dispensaries will actually be licensed anytime soon because the Department of Public Health has already cried wolf once. In January of this year, the state announced that it approved twenty dispensary licenses, and anticipated the first one to open during the summer of 2014. This ended up being delayed, and no licenses were ever issued.
Medical marijuana patients in the state of Massachusetts just want to be able to obtain medicine from a licensed, reputable grower, as approved by the voters and promised by state officials. Two years is a long time to wait in suffering while program officials claim that providing safe patient access is a priority. If it was a priority, patients feel that the program would already be implemented.
photo credit: Dank Depot