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Ambiguity Remains for Medical Cannabis in MA

A beautiful, flowering cannabis plant, while legalized medically in MA, is difficult to obtain legally due to confusing laws.
Photo by Coleen Whitfield

Legal

Ambiguity Remains for Medical Cannabis in MA

Massachusetts has had a medical marijuana law since 2013, but no one seems to know what it is. Ambiguity in the law has led to a rash of arrests of patients who thought they were acting legally. As the progressive New England state waits for dispensaries to open this summer, patients are growing their own cannabis. The law allows for that, but police officers and even judges are not always aware of this.

Under Massachusetts state law, doctors can give out letters to patients, allowing them to grow, use and possess cannabis. A patient may have up to 10 ounces of weed at any one time, but how this translates into plants is left ambiguous. What’s worse is that many police officers are simply ignoring the doctors’ letters, as if they have no legal standing.

“They said your certificate is no good,” said Adrezej Conner, a patient who was arrested for growing 37 plants in his basement, told the Boston Globe. “They said those are bogus.”

Law enforcement officials determined that Conner’s 37 plants were excessive, but legal matters are not supposed to be subject to the eyeball test (something the police chief acknowledged in discussing Conner’s case). Until some less ambiguous parameters are hashed out, patients and law enforcement will be stuck in this strange dance.

While the state has promised a database that officers can use to verify doctors’ notes, that does not currently exist, so instead, some officers have been taking their best guesses.

“Does anybody really think that a police officer is going to start calling one of these people at 10 at night or 2 a.m and say, “Did you really give Johnny Jones a prescription for marijuana?’ ” State Police Colonel Timothy Alben said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Massachusetts, like others before it, is discovering the challenges of controlling a plant with varying yields and potencies that can be grown with little gardening expertise. The simplest, most effective answer, as states like California have found, is to put more trust in the hands of doctors and patients, and leave law enforcement out of the equation as much as possible.

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