Massachusetts could potentially join 17 other states that have legalized use of medical marijuana if voters approve Ballot Question 3 on Nov. 6, but while supporters hope the proposed law will help ease the suffering of those with debilitating conditions, the referendum has also raised public safety concerns from police.
A yes vote on Question 3 would eliminate state criminal and civil penalties related to the medical use of marijuana, "allowing patients meeting certain conditions to obtain marijuana produced and distributed by new state-regulated centers or, in specific hardship cases, to grow marijuana for their own use."
According to the Committee For Compassionate Medicine, the legalized use will help thousands suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, and other debilitating conditions, as scientific research has proven that marijuana can be useful for many clinical applications, including pain relief, nausea, and seizures.
While Leicester Police Chief Jim Hurley says he is not unsympathetic to the plight of individuals who have legitimate medical conditions, and wouldn't want to deprive them of necessary medical care, he was concerned that the law would allow individuals to carry physician-issued marijuana cards.
"Currently, we're being told the cards never expire," said Hurley. "I don't know of any prescription that is indefinite, and I think by doing that we're opening up the door to allow this marijuana to be diverted."
Additionally, because the card allows users to carry up to a 60-day supply, Hurley said in some cases "they might be carrying amounts that would normally be determined police to indicate distribution, but if you have a non-expiring marijuana card there's nothing you can do."
Moreover, the 2008 referendum decriminilizing less than an ounce of marijuana has had unexpected legal ramifications that police say have complicated law enforcement.
While Hurley said it was "sold to the voters as a revenue-raising fine for communities that were in financial need," the law has still not provided methodology to collect fines, resulting in Leicester having thousands of dollars in unpaid citations.
"At one point we had 126 unpaid marijuana citations, which is $12,600," said Hurley.
A recent court case decision related to the 2008 referendum also prevents police from searching a motor vehicle strictly because of the aroma of marijuana.
"Could the same thing occur from this statute? Are we now going to get into a situation where before we can do something if we catch somebody with marijuana we have to find out if they have a prescription, and what if they leave it at home?" said Hurley. "To me, it makes the whole issue of marijuana possession more complex."
Finally, Hurley said the state needs to balance the question by providing adequate training to police officers to determine whether someone is operating a vehicle under the influence of a narcotic.
"Essentially, it gives you the green light to smoke marijuana and drive down the street," he said.
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