A vote for Question 3 is a vote for compassion

By Zac Bears

The Massachusetts electorate faces important referendum questions that impact health care, jobs and transportation in the Commonwealth. Question 3, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, allows Massachusetts voters to decide on the legalization of marijuana for medical use. In the 2008 election, the Commonwealth decriminalized marijuana possession under one ounce to a civil infraction with a fine of $100. According to Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Commonwealth, a “Yes” vote on Question 3 would, “[eliminate] state criminal and civil penalties related to the medical use of marijuana, allowing patients … to obtain marijuana … [from] new state-regulated centers.” A “No” vote on Question 3 would, “make no change in existing laws.”

California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with 56 percent in support, but the California law is far less restrictive than the proposed Massachusetts law. California has seen a significant increase in crime because “patients” can get prescriptions for ailments such as “relaxation.” Question 3 limits the ability of the healthy to get a hold of prescriptions and draws many similarities with the Connecticut law passed earlier this year, which limits growing to between three and 10 state-licensed growers.

Question 3 states that to receive a prescription, “patients must have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition, such as cancer … AIDS … Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or MS … (by) a physician with whom the patient has a bona fide physician-patient relationship.”

Under Question 3, treatment centers would be non-profit and would apply for registration by paying a fee, identifying locations where marijuana is grown and submitting procedures that follow the rules outlined by the Department of Public Health (DPH). All employees would need to be 21 years old and have no felony drug convictions. The DPH also limits the number of treatment centers to 35 for the state and five per county.

Medical marijuana is also a first step towards a more sensible drug policy. Marijuana is currently a Schedule I controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act; this is the same category as heroin, MDMA (ecstasy) and other slotmachines dangerous drugs. However, no human has died from marijuana overdose because it is impossible to consume enough marijuana – the ratio is 40,000:1, thousands of joints in just a few hours.

Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert of the University of Washington studied the collective and human costs of marijuana prohibition on the U.S. They concluded that more arrests do not decrease drug use and the collective costs and individual costs are far lower than the purported benefits of prohibition. They also came to the conclusion that decriminalizing and deprioritizing marijuana does not increase drug use. About $2.1 billion – 3 percent of the national law enforcement budget – was spent on marijuana law enforcement in 2001, and $1.7 billion of that was spent on solely on possession (not distribution). One interviewee in Beckett and Herbert’s study, referred to only as Adam, faced emotional stress from prosecution; he said: “(I) tried to not let it stress me because … I had (multiple sclerosis) … they can put me in jail but MS, you know, it’s terminal.” The criminalization and prosecution of sick people using marijuana to treat a condition is a waste of time and money.

Another study from D. Mark Anderson of Montana State and Daniel Rees from U. Colorado-Denver shows decreased automobile fatalities after medical marijuana legalization; the study showed a 9 percent decrease. According to Rees, “The result that comes through again and again and again is [that] young adults … drink less when marijuana is legalized and traffic fatalities go down.”

The only polling on Question 3 comes from Public Policy Polling in August 2012, and gives the “Yes” vote a 31 percent lead – 58 percent to 27 percent – with only 15 percent undecided.

Question 3 is a question of compassion. Residents will get treatment for painful conditions without the dangers of dependence-breeding prescription narcotics that can kill far more easily than marijuana. Thousands more will not have to hide a treatment method out of fear of the law and, with physicians, will be able to form marijuana into comprehensive treatment plans. America wastes billions of dollars telling people what choices they can make; Question 3 allows Massachusetts to buck that trend. This referendum creates a scientific law and returns freedom of choice to the people. As voters, we have an obligation to make our government smarter and to preserve civil rights, so vote “Yes” on Question 3.

Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]