Cape Cod Debate Offers Pros And Cons Of Medical Marijuana

If the results of a poll taken of audience members who attended this week’s debate in Sandwich regarding the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes is any indication, it appears that the controversial petition question that will appear on next month’s ballot just might pass muster with voters.

Of the 27 people in attendance Tuesday evening, 16 said they either mildly or strongly supported the question while 11 said they either mildly or strongly opposed it.

The event was held at St. John’s Episcopal Church and was intended to give voters the information necessary to cast an educated vote on the question when they head to the polls on November 6.

Four members of the Cape Cod Community College debate team took center stage, two arguing for, two arguing against Question Three, which seeks to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana for medical purposes.

Arguing in favor of passing the question, Jacky A. Howlett, a nursing student at Cape Cod Community College, said denying the option of marijuana use to cancer and HIV patients and people who suffer from chronic pain is a violation of human rights. “We need to have more safe options for treating these conditions. This is not a law and order issue, this is a medical and human rights issue,” she said.

We need to have more safe options for treating these conditions. This is not a law and order issue, this is a medical and human rights issue.

                                                Jacky Howlett

Speaking in opposition of the question, Matthew J. Vazquez, an international economics student at Suffolk University who serves on Cape Community College’s debate team, said there are inherent problems with the law as it is proposed. “The fact of the matter is, we can’t escape the inherent cataclysmic problems in this bill. This is not about limiting people’s ability to seek out medicine, but I want better policies for doing it,” he said.

According to the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth’s official overview of the ballot question, voters will be asked to repeal all state-level criminal and civil penalties for marijuana possession by patients who meet certain standards, and would clear the way for state-regulated medicinal marijuana-growing operations.

Proposed Law Is Poorly Worded

Mr. Vazquez argued that the proposed law as it is written, which would allow the possession of a 60-day supply for people suffering from diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, is too vague. “[The term] “other medical conditions” is too loose,” he said.

He further argued that the proposed law lacks definition with respect to a “60-day supply.”

“How and who will determine what a 60-day supply is,” he questioned. “I am not against the use of medical marijuana. I am against the policy. There has to be a better way.”

Jacob A. Frazee, also a Cape Cod Community College student, argued that because doctors will not be writing the prescriptions with a specified amount to be taken for certain conditions, it could lead to abuse of the drug. “The proposed law allows for large-scale abuse of the system... Pharmacists are not running the dispensaries. This puts the drug in the hands of [state-registered and -regulated growing and] dispensing agents with limited qualifications other than not having a criminal background,” he said.

The proposed law allows for large-scale abuse of the system

                                               Jacob Frazee

And because the law also allows for patients who are prescribed the drug but who live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary to grow up to three plants in their home as long as the plants are behind a locked door, Mr. Frazee said it could result in even wider misuse and abuse of the drug.

“If there was a dispensary located somewhere near the Cape Cod Mall, then patients living in Wellfleet, Truro, or Provincetown would be able to grow their own plants. The loosely written law leaves room for misuse and abuse of the drug,” he said.

Cape Cod Community College student Michael D. Bertram was quick to point out that the maximum number of dispensaries for providing the drug would be capped at 35 statewide, with a limit of no more than three dispensaries per county. He said people must be allowed to grow their own marijuana for this law to provide realistic access to those in need.

“Massachusetts is not a tiny state. And 35 dispensaries would be the limit, so access will not be as widespread as in other states that have passed this law. We’re not California or Colorado. We can figure out a better way to do this,” he said.

Synthetics No Substitute For Marijuana

While opponents to the question argued that the US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug, Marinol, which contains synthetically prepared THC, the ingredient in marijuana responsible for relieving pain and creating an increased appetite, could offer patients the same desired effects as marijuana, Ms. Howlett said the synthetic form of THC does not always work as well as the natural plant.

A member of the audience, who declined to provide her name, agreed. “What a shame that Marinol is considered to be a good option and that we have been brainwashed to believe that synthetic forms are better than the natural plant. It’s an argument made by the pharmaceutical companies,” she said.

Ms. Howlett applauded the woman’s statement. “There is a problem with polypharmia in America.
Marijuana has been used in different civilizations for thousands of years,” Ms. Howlett said.

Mahrya Hart of Chatham questioned whether restrictions for legal use of the drug would be placed on people who work in certain professions, such as EMTs, firefighters, or teachers.

Ms. Howlett said that different employers have different policies with respect to drug testing and in some cases, employees may have to make a choice of whether to take the prescribed drug to treat a particular condition or illness, meaning that despite the legalization of the drug for medicinal uses, some employers may not approve of the use by employees.

Tuesday’s event was hosted by the Freedom From Addiction Network and the Sandwich Substance Abuse and Prevention Task Force.

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