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Opinion | Tom Keane

The ‘medical marijuana’ sham

If Massachusetts is going to legalize pot, then just do it outright

I have this fantasy where I meet with my physician. “Doctor, doctor, give me the news,” I say, “I’ve got a bad case of lovin’ you.”

She brushes her hair back. “No pill’s gonna cure your ill,” she tells me, pulling out a pen. My eyes light up. I walk out with a prescription — actually, a registration card — for marijuana.

If Question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot passes as expected this November, that may soon be the scene in doctors’ offices across the state. While cannabis may not cure heartsickness, its adherents tout it as a remedy for a vast array of maladies, a modern-day version of those old-tyme tonics. Feeling poorly could prove to be a lot of fun.


The proposed law — “for the humanitarian medical use of marijuana” — is similar to measures that have passed in 17 states and Washington, D.C. It makes legal the consumption of weed by folks who suffer from a “debilitating medical condition.” Those conditions include truly awful afflictions, such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, and Lou Gehrig’s disease, but also a big loophole: “other conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.”

Last year I was in Los Angeles walking the Venice Beach boardwalk with my wife and daughter. Interspersed among the tattoo and T-shirt shops were the kush doctors (“kush”— originally a kind of marijuana and increasingly a synonym). Hawkers stood outside with placards detailing the wondrous benefits of weed, including “back pain” (who doesn’t have that?), “constipation” (oatmeal’s not enough), “headaches” (aspirin never seems to work), “impotence” (maybe it wasn’t just that six-pack of beer), “insomnia” (and I thought the pillow was just too hard), and “obesity” (that’s 26 percent of us, right?).

In other words, pretty much anything. Intrigued, I started to go in. My wife gave me a baleful look; my daughter seemed far too interested. Parental guilt got the better of me, and I chickened out.


But others don’t. An acquaintance there — the feds still say it’s illegal, so he’ll remain nameless — recounts obtaining his own medical marijuana card. He walked into a sketchy storefront, filled out some paperwork, and, when asked, made up some malady; he thinks it was a headache, or perhaps said his back was sore. No one examined him, and no one pushed back on his claims. Twenty minutes later he walked out with his card. “It was ridiculously easy,” he tells me. From there he was free to go to one of the numerous dispensaries around the city to pick up his “medication” — City Compassionate Caregivers on East 4th (“Happy hour everyday 3-7 p.m.”), the Evergreen Collective on North Gower (“Wednesdays is Ladies Night!”), or the California Herbal Healing Center on LaBrea (“Over 70 strains!”).

It is, of course, all a sham, “a way to make marijuana legal under the cover of medicine,” my Californian buyer says. That sham leaves me of two minds about the Bay State referendum.

The libertarian in me thinks weed should be legalized. It’s by no means harmless — for those under 21 it can pose real developmental risks — but most research suggests 420 (older readers: ask your kids) is far less hazardous than alcohol. No one dies from marijuana poisoning, for example.

On the other hand, much of the medical marijuana movement is just a backdoor attempt at legalization. I understand the push to medicalize pot. If the United States were still under Prohibition, I imagine we’d see a clamor to get doctors to prescribe red wine for people’s hearts — and undoubtedly a large proportion of the population would sign up. But that charade would make a mockery of the law, and so does medical marijuana. If it’s really medicine, then let the FDA test and approve it. If the real goal is legalization, then do so openly: regulate it, tax it, and get crooks out of the business of growing and distributing it.


Yet even as I write these words, I wonder. I read again the list of ills pot allegedly treats and my eyes light on this one: writer’s cramp! Really and truly. Come to think of it, I do feel a twinge in my finger. Somebody call the kush doctor! I’m not even sure I can finish this sente. . .

Tom Keane writes regularly for the Globe.