On November 6, Massachusetts voters made it the 18th state with a medical cannabis program when 63% of them approved Ballot Question 3. The initiative will go into effect January 1.
As of then, patients with debilitating medical conditions may provide to DPH a doctor’s certification and obtain a registration card that allows them to possess up to a 60-day supply of medicine. Designated caregivers at least 21 years of age may also obtain registration cards that will allow them to obtain cannabis at licensed distribution centers.
The measure directs the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) to devise within 120 days regulations to implement the law, which includes the licensing within one year of at least 14 “nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers” for distributing cannabis to qualified patients. Each county in the state is to have at least one center and no more than five, with a total for the state set at 35.
DPH is also to create regulations within 120 days allowing home cultivation for registered patients whose access is limited due to distance to a distribution center, financial hardship, or lack of transportation. Until final regulations are issued, the written recommendation of any patient’s doctor will be considered a limited cultivation registration allowing the patient or a caregiver to grow cannabis in an enclosed, locked facility.
The Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), the group who lead the effort to pass the initiative, is launching a campaign to educate patients and involve them in the development of statewide regulations. An FAQ and information about public education events will be posted at MPAA’s website: http://www.MassPatients.org .
With the addition of the more than 6.5 million residents of Massachusetts, there are now more than 101 million Americans, or roughly one-third of the nation’s population, living where there are state and local legal protections for medical cannabis.
ARKANSAS AND MONTANA ALSO VOTE
In other ballot news, an Arkansas initiative to allow patients with qualifying conditions to grow, possess and use cannabis narrowly failed on a vote of 52% to 48%. However, patient advocates in the state have convinced some opponent groups to work with the legislature to produce a bill there.
Voters in Montana approved a medical cannabis measure that affirmed stringent regulations created by the state legislature last year.
Montana medical cannabis provider Chris Williams is facing a mandatory sentence of at least 80 years in federal prison, following his conviction September 27 on eight counts related to producing medicine for qualified patients.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said the federal government should not Of the more than 70 individuals who have faced federal charges for state-legal medical cannabis work during the Obama Administration, Williams is one of only four who have defied pressure from federal prosecutors and gone to trial in defense of their principles.
The others agreed to plea deals to reduce their sentences, since federal courts do not allow marijuana defendants to present evidence of medical use or compliance with state law, sentencing rules on marijuana charges can require prison terms longer than most violent crimes, and prosecutors routinely add charges to coerce plea deals.
“I have decided to fight the federal government, because for me not defending the things that I know are right is dishonorable,” wrote Williams in a letter to the local newspaper. “Every citizen has a responsibility to fight for what is right, even if it seems like the struggle will be lost.”
Williams, co-founder of Montana Cannabis, one of the state’s largest providers to qualified patients, was among those indicted following mass federal raids in Montana in March 2011 as the state legislature was considering modifications to the state’s medical cannabis program. The jury in Chris William’s case never heard how he strictly complied with Montana state law in providing medicine for patients. Three of the charges the federal prosecutor piled on to pressure him into a plea deal require sentences of at least 25 years, and another requires five, all to be served consecutively.
Williams was denied release on bail pending appeal and is currently in federal custody awaiting his sentencing hearing, scheduled for January 4, 2013. He is appealing his criminal conviction to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, and he is the lead plaintiff in the appeal of a civil lawsuit that claims the federal raid and subsequent prosecutions violated the U.S. Constitution’s10th Amendment.
“No one complying with state law to help qualified patients should go to federal prison,” said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. “An 80-year sentence is unconscionable and makes a tragic joke of the Obama Administration’s stated policy on medical cannabis.”
Medical Cannabis Advocates in Federal Prison
Under a plea agreement, one of Williams’ partners in Montana Cannabis, Richard Flor, 68, was sentenced in April to five years in prison, where he died within months. Flor’s wife and son a serving sentences of two and five years, respectively, and the family lost their home, vehicles and other property to federal asset forfeiture.
Other recent medical cannabis defendants who have chosen to go to trial include Gerald Lee Duval Jr., 52, and his son, Jeremy Duval, 30, of Michigan. After their greenhouse was raided by DEA agents in 2011, they were each charged with three felony marijuana counts, of which they were convicted in April after being denied a medical defense or reference to state law. Gerald Duval was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, less than the 16 years prosecutors had sought. Jeremy received a sentence of five years; prosecutors had asked for 14.