Vote on medicinal marijuana set for Massachusetts ballots

August 24, 2004

John Larrabee, Woonsocket Call

BLACKSTONE -- When local voters turn out to elect a president on Nov. 2, they’ll also be asked to voice their opinion about marijuana as a medicine.

The non-binding referendum will appear on the ballot in a number of Massachusetts communities, including all those towns represented by state Sen. Richard Moore.

A 'yes' vote will support allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana for seriously ill patients, and will also endorse allowing those patients to grow marijuana for their personal use. Voter response will not automatically change any laws; the outcome will simply register public opinion -- and perhaps influence local legislators.

Supporters should not feel so all alone, according to activist Whitney Taylor, who led the petition drive to get the question on the ballot. 'The response throughout the area was really great,' she says. 'We had to gather at least 1,200 valid signatures, and we captured over 1,600.'

Activists with the nonprofit Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts collected names in Blackstone, Millville, Uxbridge Bellingham, and several other area towns. The question will also appear on the ballot in four legislative districts beyond the Blackstone Valley.

According to Taylor, the organization put the question before Moore’s district because the Uxbridge Democrat is chairman of the Senate Committee on Health Care.

'When this bill was in front of his committee last year, he killed it,' she says. 'We want to let him know that if he votes in favor of medicinal marijuana, he’ll be voting with the people of his district.'

Moore is quick to acknowledge that pot smoking by prescription does not exactly light his fire.

'Even if we passed such legislation, it would mean nothing, because marijuana is currently illegal under federal law,' he says. 'And there have been no scientific studies that show smoking marijuana is beneficial. As a matter of fact, inhaling smoke into your lungs may be harmful.'

Moore pointed to a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit agency founded by Congress. The academy reviewed a number of studies on medicinal use of marijuana, and found nothing conclusive.

'Some people who’ve been sick say they’ve smoked it, and felt better,' Moore adds. 'They probably did, but that’s all subjective judgement.'

He admits his committee effectively killed a bill last year by asking for further study. During their review, the committee received only one letter from a physician in support of the bill; at the same time, law enforcement agencies were loudly opposed.

Interviews with local voters revealed only lukewarm support:

- 'I suppose it should be allowed if they find it helps people with cancer,' says Sevan Toutounjian of Blackstone. 'But I suspect it would be abused. At one point psychiatrists were giving patients ‘ecstasy,’ and look what happened with that.'

- 'Maybe if they could ensure it would just be used for medical purposes, but how could they do that?' adds Blackstone resident Nancy Pinchiro. 'They’d have to be really careful. Just look at the problems with Oxycontin.'

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