SEVERAL BILLS ON THEIR WAY TO A “STUDY” COMMITTEE

By Bob Katzen

The Committee on Cannabis Policy recommended that several bills be shipped off to a study committee where bills are rarely actually studied and are essentially defeated. It is a way to kill a proposal without holding a vote on the bill itself. Here are some of the bills that will soon be sent off to a study committee:

PREVENT YOUTH SUBSTANCE ABUSE (S78) – Would direct 1 percent of the state tax revenue generated from the cannabis excise tax toward a fund that would be responsible for supporting programs dedicated to prevention of youth substance use.

“A report released this week by the Department of Public Health indicated the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths increased 8.8 percent in 2021 compared to 2020,” said sponsor Sen. Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth). “With the continued rise in substance use deaths, I believe we need to provide as much support as possible to ensure we do not lose any more of our neighbors. The state currently financially benefits a great deal from the legalization of cannabis, and I believe this legislation provides us with an opportunity to educate young people on the dangers of addiction. I am looking forward to filing the bill again next session.”

PROHIBIT TESTING FOR MARIJUANA USE WITHOUT CONSENT (H 4026) – Would prohibit doctors and health care facilities from testing a patient for the presence of marijuana without first obtaining written consent from the patient. If written consent is given, the measure prohibits the release of the results to anyone except for the patient unless the patient gives written consent.

Sponsor Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston) said he filed the bill after hearing from a constituent who was tested for marijuana, without her consent, by her primary care physician during a routine physical that included standard urine and blood work. Holmes noted she was under federal probation and marijuana, while legal in Massachusetts, is still prohibited federally and a positive test could have forced her again away from her family and back to federal prison.

“My constituent changed her primary care physician because she could no longer trust her,” said Holmes. “That was the only recourse she had. The bill will be filed again next term because more protection is needed.”

FINE FOR OPEN CONTAINER OF MARIJUANA IN VEHICLE (H 149) – Would apply the current alcohol open container law to marijuana. This would impose a $100 to $500 civil penalty on anyone who is driving with an open container of marijuana or any marijuana products in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.

Sponsor Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk) said the bill doesn’t criminalize anything but it simply imposes a civil fine—the same as having an open container of beer. He noted that police have a very hard time enforcing impaired driving under the influence of marijuana use due to lack of a Breathalyzer-type test.

“As dispensaries become more popular and accessible—there will naturally be more of a chance for use while driving,” said Dooley. “And while I believe the vast majority of users are responsible—this is meant to hopefully incentivize those few who might partake while driving—just like with alcohol to not do it and wait till they are not behind the wheel.”

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