With the passing of Question 3 on November's ballot, Massachusetts voted to approve the use of medical marijuana at the beginning of the new year. The law allows for up to 35 dispensaries throughout the state and in some cases of hardship the ability to grow the plant at home.
Many of the details of the law have yet to be determined by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, but Walpole Deputy Police Chief John Carmichael is hoping that law enforcement officials will have a say at the table.
“DPH is going to have to sit down, hopefully, with law enforcement and medical people and the whole gamut, and try and come up with some regulations on the stuff," he said. "Because we still don’t know what a 60-day supply is, we don’t think that you should allow people to be given a doctor’s recommendation with no expiration date, we don’t think there shouldn’t be an age limit on it, where a kid doesn’t even have to have permission from his parents to get a recommendation. There’s a lot of things that have to be ironed out still.”
One thing that is certain is that Carmichael would prefer to see a medical marijuana dispensary in Walpole over an abundance of people with growing operations in their homes.
The law allows for people to apply for a hardship license in order to grow marijuana at home. The hardship would be based on financial reasons, transportation or physical inability to get to a dispensary.
From his standpoint, a dispensary would be easier to keep tabs on and would potentially reduce the number of people growing marijuana in their homes in Walpole.
“My worry is what’s going to happen if we don’t have a dispensary in Walpole? Chances are we’re going to have more indoor grow houses. If we do have one, it’s going to be less likely that the people could declare a hardship and be given a hardship license to go and grow it,” he said.
"To be honest with you, from my point of view, if we had to have one or the other I would take the dispensary in an industrial area where we could watch them, we could keep our eye on the activity around it, we could do compliance and make sure that only medical marijuana people are getting it, there’s no diversion, it’s not going out the back door,” he said.
Carmichael said that as of right now, local police would not receive any notification if a resident in town has been approved for a hardship license to grow marijuana in their home. That makes oversight of who is growing and where much harder, he said.
“With indoor grow houses nobody has to tell the police that they’re there. So DPH, who issues the card for the cardholder, doesn’t have to tell the Walpole Police that there’s one on Stone Street," he said.
He made clear that any dispensary in Walpole should be in an industrial location away from the downtown area.
"Obviously we don’t want one in the center of town, we don’t want one in front of the high school or any of our schools or child care facilities,” he said.
Although he is in favor of seeing a dispensary in town, Carmichael was outspoken against the law before the election and thinks it will have a negative impact in many ways.
“Medical marijuana is still in violation of federal law. So land owners and people that own apartment buildings are still subject to civil forfeiture under the Drug Enforcement Administration, so that’s going to be a whole issue that’s going to have to be dealt with," he said.
Another issue will be the impact it will have on kids in town.
“As the police department, we’re very involved in the Drug and Alcohol Coalition that was started years ago and we’ve been struggling to try and deal with these drug issues and alcohol issues that come up. Like last year when we had a high number of overdoses, as a community, we looked at how we are going to deal with this problem and the answer was when they overdose it’s too late. You have to deal with it when they’re in their adolescence.”
He said the new law would allow for more availability for youngsters to get access to marijuana.
“I think the impact is going to be on a wider array of kids because we’ve seen the age of onset dip [since decriminalization] and we’ve seen more kids in that age group use or initiate. That’s a problem for later on because that’s associated with future drug problems. These overdoses that we’re having, if that was dealt with back earlier in their drug use history - because the patterns of behavior are developed in adolescence - we wouldn’t be having those problems,” Carmichael said.
“This doesn’t help in our efforts to try and combat the drug problem because we’ve made it worse now,” he said.
Carmichael and the Walpole Police face a potentially uphill battle in adjusting to the new law and the further easement of restrictions on marijuana usage in the state.
“The voters told police, 'We do not want civil or criminal liability for medical marijuana smoking,'" he said. “It’s nothing we’ve ever dealt with before.”