What happens when federal marijuana law runs up against state legalization? In Massachusetts, it leads to Drug Enforcement Administration investigators threatening to revoke doctors' licenses just for working with medical marijuana dispensaries.
Physicians in Massachusetts told the Boston Globe that they were approached by DEA agents at their homes and offices and given an ultimatum: Stop working with marijuana companies or lose federal drug prescribing licenses. Some doctors said their livelihoods depend on their ability to prescribe painkillers and other medication, making the choice not much of a choice at all.
"My terrified secretary asked what to do with them, and I said I'd see them in five minutes after I finished what I was engaged in," one doctor told the Globe after two DEA investigators showed up at his office with no warning. "DEA agents can be quite direct when they want to make an impression on you."
Still legal: Since a 2012 vote, medical marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts, along with 21 other states and Washington, D.C. It remains illegal under federal law, though, which classifies it as a "Schedule I" substance — more tightly regulated than drugs such as cocaine and meth.
Yet public support for legalization has never been higher. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year, 54% of respondents thought marijuana should be legal, while 76% thought there should be no jail time for possession of small amounts.
Image credit: Pew Research Center
Who's in charge? The DEA wields some control over physicians by requiring registration from doctors who prescribe or administer narcotics and other controlled substances. Those who fraudulently prescribe drugs can then be investigated and punished. The DEA therefore holds sway over doctors, even in states where marijuana dispensaries are legally allowed to operate.
Massachusetts requires extensive background checks for new dispensary employees. Because numerous medical officers have been forced to resign, it may take a while for Massachusetts medical dispensaries to find and vet replacements. What the DEA crackdown ultimately means, one dispensary attorney told the Globe, "is more delay for patients."