Editorial: A choice with confusing and expensive consequences

Compassion for those in ill health and pain is admirable, but the medical marijuana law approved by referendum vote in November is a fraud. It will help very few and create an on-ramp to marijuana use for many. The law would allow the cultivation of 60-day supplies of marijuana by anyone who cannot get to a dispensary but has a medical certification from a physician, and it would allow anyone over 21 to operate a dispensary — and as many as 35 would be permitted in the state — as long as customers had medical certifications that they had an unspecified debilitating condition.

This law is a recipe for heightened marijuana abuse and dependency rates among young people, as has been the case in other states with similar laws. The 2012 Martha’s Vineyard Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows marijuana use rising among high school age Vineyarders. The medical marijuana law supported by voters will certainly contribute to a relaxed view of the drug and consequently to greater use by young people.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Cancer Society all oppose the use of marijuana as medicine. The Massachusetts Medical Society and the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children’s Hospital Boston opposed the referendum question.Now it will be up to state health officials to make rules governing the opening and operation of the dispensaries and to the police in enforcing those rules.

And, as Times writer Steve Myrick reports this morning, Island police confront a confusing enforcement challenge. The rules are yet to be written governing the authorization and purchase of medical marijuana. The federal laws governing the use of marijuana still obtain, despite the action by Massachusetts voters. And groups concerned with the possibility that the state’s new law will be merely a pretense for liberal use of the drug for recreational rather than medicinal purposes will lobby for stiff rules and rigorous enforcement.

The Youth Task Force, which sponsors the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, will work with local towns that may consider zoning or health bylaws to regulate dispensaries. And, the task force has asked each Island town’s selectmen and the Dukes County Commission to urge Gov. Deval Patrick to delay implementation of the medical marijuana law for at least six months, to give towns time to explore new bylaws.

“Our concern now, and always has been, is about access for kids,” Theresa Manning of the Task Force, told Mr. Myrick. “We certainly are concerned about what medical marijuana has done in other communities.”

The state law also does not prevent employers from firing workers for medical marijuana use, on or off the job, even if they comply with state law.

It does not allow operation of a vehicle, boat, or aircraft under the influence of medical marijuana, or require any local government to allow use of the drug in public.

It does not require health insurers to reimburse patients for the cost of medical marijuana.

Massachusetts voters made an unfortunate choice when they approved the medical marijuana law. Its economic and health costs promise to be substantial here and in communities across the state.