Health & wellness

Wide range of concerns voiced at Mass. hearing on medical marijuana

An Army veteran from ­Newton worries that medical marijuana will not be legally available in Massachusetts for those seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The chairman of a ­Weymouth substance abuse treatment program is concerned that regulators will be too lenient when crafting rules, allowing easy access for teenagers seeking marijuana for recreational use.

And family physicians fear losing their federally issued ­licenses to prescribe pain medications if they recommend marijuana for patients, a practice not sanctioned by federal laws.


They were among about 50 people who voiced their concerns and suggestions Thursday at Roxbury Community College in a three-hour “listening session” held by state regulators to help them craft regulations guiding the medical use of marijuana.

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Under a November ballot referendum that legalized medical marijuana, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is required to issue regulations by May 1, although officials recently said the complexity of the issue may take them a bit longer to complete the task.

Dave Morgan, a retired pharmacist who heads ­Weymouth’s Substance Abuse Prevention Team, urged regulators to consider not allowing edible marijuana, such as cookies or candies, which are permitted in some of the other 17 states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana.

“As a pharmacist, we don’t put Lipitor in cheeseburgers,” Morgan said. “Medicine is not smoked and is not compounded into food and candies. If you want it to be called medicine, treat it as medicine.”

Many of those who spoke among the audience of about 200 offered opinions about how regulators should decide the medical conditions that would qualify a patient as so debilitated that he or she needs medical marijuana.


The referendum listed nine specific conditions, but also states that “other conditions” could be determined in writing by a patient’s physician, a stipulation that worries substance-abuse prevention and other health specialists who say such vague language will result in marijuana being widely diverted for recreational use.

Scott Murphy, the 30-year-old Newton veteran who served in Iraq, said a friend of his, ­another vet, committed suicide last year after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Murphy said he worries that veterans, who receive care from Veterans Affairs health centers, may not be able to persuade those physicians to certify ­patients for medical marijuana use, since the federal government prohibits such use.

Murphy said he struggles with chronic pain and degenerative arthritis in many of his joints, the aftermath of a motor­cycle accident exacerbated by four years of Army service. Smoking marijuana, he said, helps relieve his joint pain, when other medications have not worked.

“I have to buy it off the street now,” he said ­after testifying. “I am not guaranteed that [the quality] is safe.”

A landlords’ association spokeswoman testified that property owners are worried about mold, water, and smoke damage in their buildings from patients now allowed to grow their own marijuana under “hardship cultivation” permits, if they lack transportation or ­finances to buy from dispensaries.


Dawna Carrette of the Small Property Owners Association, pointed out that landlords in Oregon are legally allowed to refuse to rent to patients ­approved for medical marijuana use, and she said members of her association want the same protections for Massachusetts landlords.

‘As a pharmacist, we don’t put Lipitor in cheeseburgers.’

“We need either to have a choice or, alternatively, I suggest [state regulators] should ban marijuana growing and using in rental apartments,” ­Carrette said.

Dr. Lauren Smith, interim state health commissioner, said regulators want to carefully write the rules to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.

She said the lengthy testimony was helpful. And she said the department is determined to strike the right balance ­between public safety and ­patient needs.

“Everyone’s story is appropriately poignant,’’ she said. “What we have to do as a depart­ment is to listen to the stories but continue to understand that we are responsible for the health and well-being of the 6½ million people of the Commonwealth . . . and that’s what we are going to do.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.