scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Yvonne Abraham

Dispense with medical marijuana alarmism

How much longer does Father Joe Quinn have to wait?

Sometimes, when the Franciscan friar says Mass at St. Anthony’s Shrine downtown, he is in so much pain that tears roll down his face. He has Ogilvie’s syndrome, a rare gastrointestinal disorder that has put him in the hospital for months at a time, required multiple operations, and left him dependent on a feeding tube. It hurts, all day every day, the agony an 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale.

“After a while, the pain becomes unredemptive,” he said, his eyes welling. “It doesn’t serve any purpose, except to be in pain.”


He can’t take painkillers, because they exacerbate his condition. His doctor told him there is nothing she can do for him, and recommended he use medical marijuana. That should be possible for Quinn. He got a permit to buy medical marijuana months ago. But like thousands of others, he has been held hostage by the debacle that is this state’s medical marijuana program.

“I have walked down in the lobby and smelt smoke and I’m thinking, ‘I know that’s not incense,’ ” Quinn said. “It’s all around. I just do not understand what the big deal is, when you can get heroin for a fraction of the price on the street.”

Others might risk going to that street for what they need, but he’s a priest. He wants to get help legally and properly.

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana back in 2012. The first dispensaries should have opened last summer. But the implementation of the system has been a case study in ham-handedness. The approval process for vendors became such a bog of questions, confusion, and scandal that some applicants fled.

One company, Patriot Care, survived the state’s messy approval process (and several unflattering Globe stories) to get licenses for three dispensaries. It is hoping to open the first in downtown Boston, on Milk Street, a short walk from St. Anthony’s Shrine.


But some powerful neighbors won’t have it. The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, a coalition of commercial property owners in the area, is opposed. The group’s president, Rosemarie Sansone, was kind enough to call from vacation on Friday to explain the group’s reasoning, but after a long conversation, I’m still mystified.

She said the BID worries the dispensary planned for Milk Street would be too close to day-care centers, the Old South Church, the Freedom Trail, and the Irish Famine Memorial. Those tourist attractions bring “many young people into this area on a daily basis,” she said. That part of downtown, home to several homeless shelters, already sees many 911 calls, she said.

“We are working very, very hard to make this the comeback neighborhood everybody wants it to be,” she said. “We’re not there yet, and this is one additional challenge.”

Why should a dispensary be an additional challenge? We’re not talking about a strip club, or a brothel. A marijuana dispensary is not like a methadone clinic, or a shooting gallery where heroin addicts gather and get high. It’s not as if a dispensary is going to bring hordes of potheads onto Milk Street, who will then park themselves on the sidewalk outside to toke up and gorge themselves on Funyuns.

Is it possible some of Patriot Care’s customers, carrying permits they don’t deserve, will use the marijuana they get from Milk Street recreationally? Of course. There will no doubt be abuse of the system, but that’s on state regulators, not on the dispensary. And it’s certainly not on the Father Joe Quinns of the world, who deserve a chance to get the medicine they need, somewhere near their homes.


“That is why they have medications, to take away people’s pain,” he said. “I don’t think I am asking all that much.”

In May, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal will decide whether to allow the Milk Street dispensary to open. It would be easy for it to give in to the alarmist and uninformed concerns of opponents. The board should listen, instead, to the concerns, and the crying need, of people like Quinn.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.