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My Turn: Wrong route on marijuana

The ballot Question 3 “For the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana,” in my opinion, is a sham and a back-door approach to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.

The bill’s intent — to help patients with debilitating medical conditions such as terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, etc. — is laudable even though there are many anti-emetics, anti-nausea and pain medications that make marijuana use unnecessary for the majority of these patients.

I would be more supportive of the bill if the criteria were restricted to the above patients and there were a maximum number of patients who would be part of the medical marijuana registry as it is done in Vermont. The Vermont medical marijuana legislation limits the number of patients to 1,000 cases. Considering the population difference, a 15,000-patient registry would seem reasonable in Massachusetts.

The medical marijuana bill has a huge loophole that is a deal breaker for me. It states “that medical marijuana may be used for other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.” This opens Pandora’s Box. The so-called “Kush Doctors” in California’s medical marijuana clinics extol the benefits of marijuana for back pain, constipation, headaches, impotence, obesity, in other words just about everything. I fear this could happen in Massachusetts, creating a complete medical farce.

A troubling development in Colorado should concern us in Massachusetts. Colorado passed its medical marijuana law in 2000. On Jan. 31, 2009, there were 5,051 registered medical marijuana users. By Oct. 31, 2011, 88,872 persons held a valid medical marijuana card. This was caused by a loosening of who could cultivate and distribute medical marijuana. As of now, 2.3 percent of Colorado’s adult population possesses a medical marijuana registration card.

Physicians are also culpable in this proliferation. Amendment 20 (Colorado’s medical marijuana law) does not require a laboratory, mental or physical exam, only a physician signature for a medical marijuana card.

Fifteen physicians in the state of Colorado registered 49 percent of all medical marijuana patients and a single doctor registered more than 10 percent of all patients in the medical marijuana registry.

I believe these activities diminish doctor-patient relationships, increase conflict of interest and may be a source of illegal profits. A trade off for a substance whose abuse potential is well documented but whose benefits are poorly characterized is worrisome to me.

Finally, in Colorado, some physician feel there is diversion of medical marijuana to adolescents, which is a great concern and a negative consequence of medical marijuana laws.

Full disclosure: I am a former trustee and current alternate trustee of the Massachusetts Medical Society. I fully support the Medical Society’s opposition to Ballot Question 3 for the following reasons: The federal government’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has high potential for abuse and has no currently accepted medical use. The marijuana plant is not a medical product and does pose health risks. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens as tobacco smoke in addition to carbon monoxides and tar.

Despite anecdotal claims to the contrary, there is a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating medical benefits from marijuana. Physicians prescribing marijuana may lead the public to believe marijuana is safe and effective. Data from California indicates that 70 percent of youth using marijuana have obtained it via the medical marijuana route.

Despite the above statements, the Massachusetts Medical Society supports the reclassification of marijuana by the DEA so it can be legally tested for safety and effectiveness in vigorous well-planned clinical trials. I believe doctors prescribing any drug is a medical decision, and should be based on scientific facts and not by the ballot box.

Dr. William F. Doyle is a resident of Greenfield.

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