EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 2, 2013

'King of Pot': State's medical marijuana access rules too strict

By Andy Metzger
State House News Service

---- — BOSTON - He calls himself the “King of Pot,” and he railed with megaphone on the doorstep of state regulators yesterday.

“They want only dispensaries to be able to procure your medicine,” said Michael Malta, 51, of Tewksbury, told about a dozen protestors who showed up on Washington Street.

His voice rising to a roar, Malta said, “The money said make it a monopoly. If you had only one Stop and Shop in Boston and everybody was shopping there, wouldn’t that be great. Well that’s what they’re trying to do with our medical marijuana law and we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to take it. Bring back the grow, and bring back the caregivers.”

Voters approved a 2012 ballot referendum, 1.9 million to 1.1 million, which legalized marijuana when used with a doctor’s recommendation.

, and spawned an informal network of personal caregivers to grow and supply marijuana to patients who have few legal means to obtain the substance before dispensaries open. The Department of Public Health, tasked by the law with writing regulations for the new branch of medicine, limited caregivers to providing marijuana to only one patient, effectively stamping out the cottage industry.

“These regulations limit caregivers to one patient to prevent the unlawful diversion of marijuana, upholding Massachusetts voter intent that safe and appropriate access be allowed for those most in need. The Public Health Council and industry observers across the country have commended DPH for its thoughtful development and implementation of the program, calling it a model for the nation,” DPH spokeswoman Anne Roach said in a statement yesterday in response to the protest. The statement said the regulations “appropriately balance and respect patient needs, while ensuring safe communities,” though marijuana activists said too much weight was given to law enforcement’s concerns.

“We’re talking about tens and tens of thousands of people. If you’re going to try to service that population in any reasonable fashion, then you’re going to have to have multiple patients per caregiver. The fact that they have eliminated that option, means they don’t care whether patients get medicine or not,” said Bill Downing, a Reading resident. “It’s quite obvious the DPH puts a much higher priority on keeping marijuana from leaking into our society, which is of course already knee-deep in marijuana. It’s a total fantasy that they’re stopping anything here at all.”

Downing said Mass Grass, a newspaper published by the marijuana-legalization advocacy group NORML, ran a referral service for five caregivers that supplied hundreds of patients, but once the new regulation went into effect May 24 “all the caregivers were shut down,” and said patients either do without marijuana or buy it from dealers.