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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Medical marijuana sparks up local debate

Essex Sheriff Frank Cousins

LYNN - The topic of medicinal marijuana is one that can go up in smoke according to Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins and state Rep. Robert Fennell.

To date, four sheriffs in Massachusetts have come out in support of the bill: Carmen Massimiano of Berkshire County, Robert Garvey of Hampshire County, Richard Bretschneider of Nantucket County, and Andrea Cabral of Suffolk County.

But Cousins, however, said he considers marijuana and alcohol to be gateway drugs and is not in favor of marijuana being decriminalized for medicinal purposes.

“What we are finding are people trying to get off of prescription drugs and illegal drugs, and that is what scares me about this medical marijuana,” he said. “People say, I have Zoloft, Xanax and Vicodin from a doctor that is prescribed. When they abuse it, that is where the problems come in like a ladder, going to more potent drugs and that is not acceptable to me.”

Last month, the Massachusetts Bar Association’s House of Delegates voted in favor to support a bipartisan medical marijuana bill that was introduced in the State House earlier this year.

The bill would regulate the medical use of marijuana by patients approved by physicians and certified by the department of public health.
Former Massachusetts Bar Association president David White, who introduced the measure, said the MBA supports the legislation because it affirms the rights of patients to be treated with medical marijuana, while including important regulations to deter improper use.

“Provisions like state-issued ID cards for patients, state certification of a limited number of dispensaries and rules governing secure growing sites, ensure that only patients who have their doctor’s recommendation can obtain medical marijuana,” he said.

Cousins said he has noticed an alarming number of people who are released from prison that go through re-entry programs and are found to be addicted to prescription drugs.

“My goal is to get people drug and alcohol free when incarcerated and to keep them that way,” he said.

Rep. Robert Fennell
To date, 13 states have passed medical marijuana laws, including Rhode Island and Vermont, with legislation being considered in 14 other states including New York and New Jersey.

Despite those states approving the bill, Fennell said he has identified certain flaws and lack of safeguards to prevent people from illegally sharing or selling the drug.

“As history has shown us, opening up this Pandora’s box would be doing more harm to our society in the long term,” he said. “In the late 1800s, cocaine was considered an acceptable pain relief medication, but after the United States government took note of the 5,000 deaths due to overdoses of this drug, it was banned under the Harrison Act of 1914. I am confident that a safer alternative to medical marijuana can be used as well, that is as effective, but does not pose the same negative social impact.”

The entire text of the bill can be read at :