On Tuesday, October 14, medical marijuana patients and advocates gathered in Boston to protest the state's failure to guarantee access to the drug in the nearly two years since voters approved a ballot question legalizing it for medical use.
Since then, the Department of Public Health (DPH) has not approved a single dispensary license and has instituted strict regulations that cripple the ability of patients to obtain marijuana from other sources.
“It's unacceptable to make patients suffer for politics. The Department of Public Health has blood on its hands today,” said Mickey Martin, an activist and author who helped direct the protest with a bullhorn.
Martin slammed DPH for the slow pace of its dispensary license approval process, noting that the agency has collected over $3 million in fees from applicants.
“We demand that DPH put this program in place immediately,” Martin said. He said DPH should expedite the licensing process, issue licenses for every county in the state, and issue at least 35 licenses for the entire state, with a goal of 50 or more.
Martin also said that DPH should loosen its regulations on caregivers, medical marijuana providers who aren't associated with dispensaries. Currently, DPH only allows caregivers to serve one patient at a time. Martin also said that patients should be free to grow their own marijuana.
Currently, only 11 dispensaries have been allowed to move to the inspection phase, a number which Martin said is too low. “You're going to put a strain on the supply and limit what's available,” he said.
Bill Downing, the owner of Yankee Caregivers, also emphasized the importance of caregivers. Downing is currently suing the Department of Public Health for shutting down his service which provided medicine to fifteen patients.
“They've worked really hard to make sure that patients don't get access,” Downing said. “They wrote up regulations that made it as hard for patients to get access to cannabis as they possibly could. These regulations seem as though they were written by a member of the law enforcement community who doesn't want medical marijuana to happen.”
“They don't want caregivers, right? So why don't they want caregivers?” Downing said. “One big reason is the caregivers don't give them any money.”
“Caregivers don't make money for DPH so DPH doesn't like caregivers,” he said.
Jill Osborn, who said her seven-year-old daughter Haley suffers from a severe form of epilepsy that causes as many as a hundred seizures a day, also spoke about the necessity of having a system of caregivers.
“Even when dispensaries open, if they ever actually get open, they'll only cater to the needs of the majority of patients. We need to expand the caregiver program so that patients with unique needs, patients like Haley, who need specific strains grown for them get that access,” Osborn said.
“I do not want seizures anymore, but I want medicine that can take them away,” Haley told the crowd of protesters.
“Please don't let my daughter die waiting for medicine,” Osborn pleaded, prompting the protesters to chant “help Haley.”
Cynthia Gedick also voiced her frustration over her inability to provide marijuana for her daughter Rebekah, who she said suffers from hippocampal malrotation and seizures. Gedick said the medications she is currently using to treat Rebekah have numerous side effects.
“Our position as parents in a free society is to secure our childrens' futures, to protect them from the outside harm, and enable them to live independently and without dependence on the government,” Gedick said. “How can we do that when the government is stealing our choice to do so by denying and stalling our right to choose the best medicine for our children?”
After several other patients and advocates spoke, Cara Crabb-Burnham, the president of MassCann/NORML, spoke about efforts to legalize marijuana and urged the crowd of protesters to register to vote.
“Marijuana will be legal in 2016. If the DPH cannot figure themselves out in that time, patients will have access with everyone else,” she said.
Recent polls showing that the majority of Massachusetts voters approve of marijuana legalization support her prediction.
After the press conference, the group marched from the Department of Public Health to the State House, where they continued to protest for some time.
Jerry Donovan, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal injury, told me near the end of the protest that marijuana is a safe alternative to pharmaceutical drugs that can cause liver damage.
“It should be available so that your doctor can write out a prescription and it could be delivered to your door for people who are incapable of going and getting it,” he said.
DPH told 22News that some dispensaries may open by the end of the year, but it is unclear how many.