STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
A FUNDRAISING APPEAL from the marijuana legalization campaign has drawn the ire of health care professionals and parents of children who died from opioid addiction after the group pitched legal marijuana as an alternative to prescription pain drugs in spite of the state’s medical marijuana program.
Will Luzier, the campaign manager for the Yes on 4 ballot drive, sent an email to supporters on Monday highlighting the latest opioid overdose-related death statistics that he said could make 2016 “the deadliest year for opioid overdoses in our state’s history.”
“If you think people in our state deserve a safer alternative to prescription painkillers, please help end marijuana prohibition on November 8 by donating today,” Luzier wrote in the email. “Voting ‘Yes on 4’ will help address the opioid crisis by allowing adults 21 and older to use marijuana responsibly, without needing approval from a physician or the government.”
The email prompted a letter to Luzier by 45 health care CEOs, recovery specialists and parents calling for a “legitimate debate” about the pros and cons of legalizing adult use marijuana without conflating the ballot proposal with medical marijuana, which is already legal.
“We found your use of those who have lost their lives to opioids as a hook for raising money for the commercial marijuana industry’s ballot measure to be deeply troubling,” the opponents wrote in the letter obtained by the News Service. “We are far too familiar with the devastating impact of the opioid crisis on our families and families across the Commonwealth. While the causes of this crisis are many, we believe that legalizing recreational marijuana would only make it worse, not better.”
While Luzier called the state’s medical marijuana program “barely functional” nearly four years after it was approved by voters, the letter writers said the answer is to “improve the system” and not just legalize the drug for all.
“We also found your effort to repackage your recreational pot ballot measure as medical marijuana to be deceptive to voters,” they wrote, calling the email “cynical and misleading.”
Jim Borghesani, communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign, challenged the opponents, who he called “props” of the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which organized to fight the ballot question.
The signers include 20 parents as well as the heads of Spectra Health Systems, Lahey Health Behavioral Services, Hope House, Gosnold on Cape Cod, the Association for Behavioral Health and Learn to Cope.
“We wonder if the folks being used as props by our opponents are actually aware of the veterans, federal employees and other individuals who could benefit from therapeutic marijuana but who for many reasons cannot access marijuana under the existing system,” Borghesani said.
Borghesani also said that providing access for medical purposes to marijuana for those who don’t have it now is only one reason to support the question. Other benefits, he said, include “ending historic and current social injustices, addressing the dangerous practice of sending purchasers to markets where they buy untested product sold by criminals who also sell heroin and other deadly drugs, and taking commerce away from dealers and putting it under the control of state regulators and local authorities while generating much-needed tax revenues.”
According to the state, six medical marijuana dispensaries were open in Massachusetts as of July 31 serving 28,860 active patients with 161 physicians registered in the program. More dispensaries are in the pipeline, including two that had a final certificate, but are not yet selling, and 42 with provisional certificates that are in the inspectional phase through July.
The Department of Public Health earlier this summer reported 488 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths over the first six months of the year, a total that the department said could grow by 431 to 509 deaths when accounting for active cases.