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Opponents of the Massachusetts medical marijuana law passed Tuesday say they are concerned about how the drug’s distribution will be regulated, and whether the state can prevent abuses.

The law abolishes civil and criminal penalties for marijuana use by people with cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions determined by a physician, the Associated Press reports. It will create nonprofit treatment centers that will grow and distribute the drug to patients or their caregivers.

Critics of the new law say the state Department of Public Health may not be able to prevent abuses at the treatment centers. The department has been criticized recently for not adequately overseeing a drug-testing lab that was closed this summer after a chemist was arrested for allegedly faking drug results, forging paperwork and mixing drug samples. The department also oversees the state pharmacy board, which has been in the spotlight because of a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to a steroid distributed by a compounding pharmacy in the state.

The health department is scheduled to issue regulations within 120 days after January 1, the date the law takes effect. The department must decide how much marijuana constitutes a 60-day supply, and register patients and caregivers, treatment centers, and their personnel.

Initially no more than 35 centers will be allowed in 2013, but the department could expand that number subsequently.
Heidi Heilman, who heads the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, which opposed the measure, says she is concerned the law will allow many people to get marijuana legally. “People can get medical marijuana for headaches, insomnia, back pain. That will increase the demand, and with that comes an increase in supply. That’s what happened in other states,” she said.

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