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The Podium

Still waiting on the promise of medical marijuana

(Matthew J. Lee Photo/Globe staff)

Matthew J. Lee Photo/Globe staff)

Since the passage of the 2012 ballot referendum legalizing prescribed marijuana for medical use, the Patrick administration has been forthright and responsible in developing what are widely considered some of the most stringent regulations in the country. The governor delivered on his promise to expedite passage of state regulations and initiated an application process that quickly winnowed a list of 180 applicants to just 20.

And then came the politics of marijuana.

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Despite the appearance of a more informed and serious debate about the medical benefits of marijuana for treatment of debilitating pain, uncontrollable tremors, and seizures — among many other legitimate illnesses — this process has deteriorated into lawsuits, legislative tampering, and complaints that some applicants were either politically wired or less than truthful in their applications.

In many respects, I am the poster child for this therapy, but at 62 — with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis that is slowly and painfully draining my life from me, I may not live long enough to realize the governor’s promise. I have recently lost more weight and am down to 115 pounds.

What seems to have been forgotten in this well-intentioned law are people like me who have exhausted a battery of approved pharmaceutical therapies that address the excruciating pain we endure every day in exchange for a risk of addiction and becoming catatonic. I was taking seven daily doses of an opiod-based pain medication that left me so out of it that I finally agreed to the installation of a medication pump that I wear. I am now bound to a wheelchair, no longer able to even sit on the edge of my couch where I had spent the better part of four years trying to find a sitting position that wouldn’t aggravate the added pain of a cracked vertebrae.

The option we have been offered while the licensing process for dispensaries plays itself out is to secure a certificate in Boston that would enable me to purchase medical marijuana legally, a daunting challenge for someone confined to a wheelchair with just the assistance of my wife Carol.

Instead I have taken to the streets. I have procured marijuana through illegal means, and I have joined an increasing number of people in my situation who are unable to navigate this system or wait until the licensing process moves forward. The benefits of marijuana are as advertised. The constant tremors that I have lived with as this disease marches on are now controllable and the effect of this drug is to very quickly calm me down and even relax the constriction of my throat so that I can get food down.

This approach, though, comes with a price. I can see in the marijuana the dirt that wouldn’t exist if this were prepared in a laboratory instead of some illegal location. I can often smell the mold in the weed, and sometimes I get a strong scent of diesel fuel. And, of course, it is illegal for me to procure marijuana from a dealer, and while I am fairly confident I won’t become a target for law enforcement, it angers me that I have been put into a situation where I have to make this choice.

The daily reality for the thousands of people who would benefit from the application of marijuana as a controlled and strictly prescribed drug is that we know this drug will not cure us, but it will allow many of us to manage our pain and symptoms better without the known side effects of these toxic narcotics that are highly addictive and debilitating.

This was, after all, the promise of the 2012 referendum when nearly two million voters — 63 percent of the electorate — saw through the cartoonish image of “Reefer Madness” and understood that this relatively benign drug could help people like me.

I may not be around long enough to realize the benefits of that referendum, but there are thousands more like me who would benefit if the regulators could just finish the good work that they started.

Charles Willame Jr. is a resident of Fairhaven.
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