Testimony on Marijuana-Related Legislation before the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy

The Massachusetts Medical Society appreciates the opportunity to provide comment to the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy on a number of issues and bills currently under your consideration. The Medical Society has long had an interest in marijuana policy and its effects on the public health of the Commonwealth, and is pleased to comment on how best to proceed in ways that promote the health and wellness of patients now that marijuana is legal in the state.

The Massachusetts Medical Society continues to oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana, as being detrimental to public health. This being said, at a meeting of the Medical Society membership after the passage of Question 4 in November, the physician membership formally endorsed policy underscoring the importance of remaining engaged in discussions with policymakers to advocate for policies that will protect the health of the public.

In crafting this new policy, the Medical Society identified priorities to help guide an evidence-based approach to amending the new law to best mitigate the deleterious impacts that the legalization of marijuana may have on Massachusetts. These priorities include: preventing youth access to marijuana, directing funding to conduct research on the health effects of recreational marijuana, mitigating the risks of marijuana-impaired drivers, promoting education about the health effects of recreational marijuana, and setting safety and quality standards for marijuana products. 

The Medical Society reviewed the legislation before your committee, and wishes to highlight several key bills we believe best promote the priorities of the Medical Society and our mission to reduce the negative public health impacts of Massachusetts legalization of recreational marijuana. The Medical Society is pleased to offers strong support for the bills detailed below.

Public Health Education/Marketing – The Medical Society encourages the legislature to focus on preventing youth access to marijuana by promoting accurate and responsible information and restricting marketing and advertising to persons under 21 years of age through support of the following three bills:

  • An act relative to youth marijuana use prevention and education - SB 1071 (Lewis)/HB 3180 (Kane): This bill implements public health campaigns to educate youth about the health harms and risks of marijuana use, and to encourage responsible adult use. Evidence has shown marijuana negatively affects brain development—which continues into young adulthood. Studies have also shown that young people who use marijuana are more likely to become addicted and have problems in school.

  • An Act to prevent adolescent substance abuse - SB 1097 (Flanagan): Prompts the DPH to establish an Adolescent Substance Use Prevention and Early Intervention Trust Fund. Marijuana is addictive; we must ensure that we have the programs with sustained funding to prevent and treat substance use, especially in our young people.

  • An act further regulating marijuana commercialization - SB 1067 (Lewis)/HB 3184 (Kane): This bill limits the marketing of commercial marijuana entities to 1) signage at the marijuana establishment, and 2) marketing to customers who have opted-in to receiving information. History and research demonstrate the negative impact youth-targeted marketing by alcohol and tobacco companies has had on influencing young people to use their products. Therefore, we want to make sure marijuana marketing is responsible from the outset.

Research on Recreational Marijuana –The Medical Society supports research on recreational marijuana, and we support legislation that directs adequate funding to conduct and publish research on the clinical and public health effects of recreational marijuana, including as outlined in the following bill:

  • An act relative to marijuana research, data collection, and best practices - SB 1072 (Lewis)/HB3181 (Kane): This bill creates a comprehensive research program to track and monitor the public health, social and economic impacts of marijuana legalization, beginning with a baseline study. It also funds research on effects of marijuana on the developing brain, and on epidemiology of legalized recreational marijuana. Data is critical to developing good policy, and to protecting the health of the public. Our public health experience with tobacco should be a clarion call to government as we work to set marijuana policy - We cannot allow marijuana to replace tobacco as the next public health threat. Evidence-based research and data are the only way we can ensure history does not repeat itself. Too many lives are at stake. 

Oversight/Regulatory Structure - The Medical Society supports a strong medical and public health voice in the oversight and regulatory structure. We support amendments to the Cannabis Control Commission to provide greater public health and substance use disorder expertise.

  • Senate bill 1064 (Lewis) - An act relative to the regulatory authority for oversight of the recreational marijuana industry: Expands the size of the commission tasked with licensing and oversight of the marijuana industry, and ensures that commission members possess the necessary experience and expertise to effectively carry out their responsibilities, including one seat designated for an expert in public health and substance use disorder. We know that many see this new law as opportunity for revenue and new business. But as physicians, we also know there will be a long term public health cost—which translates to economic and social cost—if we don’t put the appropriate safeguards in place, and ensure that health and safety—of consumers, industry workers, children and adolescents and the entire population--are considerations in every regulation.

Additional Priorities of the Medical Society

The Medical Society remains concerned about the omission of detail throughout the ballot initiative to detail several portions of regulations. While many provisions of the ballot measure require regulations to be promulgated on certain issues, such as safe packaging of edible products and the safe cultivation practices, the lack of detail provided in the statutory charges and lack of reference to national standards leaves the content of the regulations entirely to the discretion of the Cannabis Control Commission. The Medical Society urges modification of the statutory language to provide further detail on the direction and content of the regulations. This would help ensure the regulations on edibles are genuinely effective in limiting accidental ingestion by children, for example, and would reduce likelihoods of contaminated products. 

The Medical Society also shares concern about the prevention and detection of impaired driving. The Medical Society urges further study of evidence-based means to promote public safety.

The Massachusetts Medical Society appreciates the opportunity to provide comment. We hope that constructive amendments can be made so that the recreational marijuana law is implemented in a way that limits as much as possible the harmful effects on the health of the people of Massachusetts. Please be in touch if the Massachusetts Medical Society can be of assistance in this regard.

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