Various states find themselves amidst an ever-changing landscape of marijuana legislation. Massachusetts has become one of these states, following a November 6, 2012 ballot question that an overwhelming 63 percent of voters approved, allowing humanitarian medical use of marijuana.
Massachusetts’ medical marijuana legislation went into effect on January 1, 2013. While the process as a whole has involved many moving parts, progress in the act of enacting this legislation has consistently splashed across headlines, as recently as this week.
As of February 9, two medical marijuana dispensaries here in Western Massachusetts have received licenses to open shop — one in Holyoke, and one in Northampton. Despite this approval, it will be an estimated six months before either dispensary is serving patients in Western Mass.
Enthralled in the new territory of medical practice involving marijuana is Springfield College alum Dr. William Ortiz. Ortiz visited his alma mater on Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. in the Dodge Ballroom (B) to lecture on his research in medical marijuana. Ortiz has traveled far and wide in his medical career as a licensed doctor in Massachusetts, Maine, Florida and Kentucky. He most recently opened The Health Clinic, LLC at 295 High Street in Holyoke.
Organized by the Multicultural Affairs Center, the event presented the audience with the opportunity to learn from a presentation entitled, “Cannabis 101.” The lecture served as a nearly two-hour long crash-course in Ortiz’s findings from the past two years, years that were spent both conducting and reviewing a significant amount of research.
It was in September 2011 that Ortiz began to change his mind about the taboo subject of marijuana use in healthcare patients.
Like many doctors, Ortiz had previously held a negative stereotype of the drug, as well as those who use it. But on a September evening spent tending to patients in an emergency room, his mind was changed forever. One of his patients that night had tested positive for THC.
“The first thing that crossed my mind was ‘Ahh, another drug addict.’ As I crossed the threshold to meet the patient, I asked, ‘Does this stuff work for you?’” Ortiz explained to an attentive, quaint crowd in a booming voice.
“This is what she told me. She told me, ‘I’m a single parent. I have three kids and a full-time job, making it all by myself. My doctor wants to give me Percocet, Vicodin, Ativan — everything you could imagine for my pain, but I can’t take that and be productive at a full-time job. I smoke a little weed to handle the situation. If my doctor finds out about this, I could lose my job, my kids and my life would be devastated.”
This caught Ortiz’s attention, and prompted his dedication to serious research. A little over two years later, Ortiz presented many of his findings here at Springfield College in his program. He established that he truly believes, “It is medicine.”
“Cannabis 101” entailed an in-depth history of marijuana in medical treatment dating back centuries, as well as a wealth of information regarding its current practical use to treat certain medical conditions, and a briefing on the biochemistry involved in the ingestion of cannabinoids, which the human body produces some of naturally.
Ortiz also enlisted help from a pair of medical marijuana patients who have conducted their own research – Frank Terrar and Michelle Hank.
The two guests emphasized that potential patients should know the specifics of how marijuana plants are properly grown and cared for in a non-hazardous way. This would assure that patients know how to identify medication that is safe to ingest.
Harm-reduction was also preached, suggesting that anyone who becomes a future medical marijuana patient should avoid smoking the medication; vaporizing and eating edible forms of the medication prove to be significantly safer for the body. These methods are also more practical in treating medical conditions.
While many of our state’s citizens feel mixed emotions about the arrival of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, Ortiz’s belief in marijuana as a useful and practical medication was undeniable. Significant medical research does indeed suggest that the drug that in the recent past was written off as a recreational glut for “drug addicts” does have a wide range of potential medical usage.
With that being said, skeptics and supporters alike are interested to see how widespread medical marijuana use becomes in Massachusetts in the near future. With dispensaries preparing to open this upcoming summer and with ample doctors attesting to the power of marijuana as medicine, it will be interesting to watch the process unfold.
“I want to help my patients. I don’t want to think of them as drug addicts anymore, like I did with the patient I told you about from that night in the E.R.,” concluded Ortiz before taking questions.
Ortiz is one of many doctors urging for the use of cannabis as medicine. In attending “Cannabis 101,” the Springfield College community could learn in much detail about a topic that has been hotly debated on both the federal and state levels. Some believe that there is no place for legal recreational or medical use in the United States. Others believe our country’s “War on Weed” is coming to an end. It is likely that the topic will continue to be used for political leverage in upcoming elections across various states, in addition to the looming 2016 presidential election.
As a medical professional, Ortiz provided a convincing argument for the use of marijuana in place of more harmful medications he has seen patients prescribed for years. All opinions aside, Ortiz’s “Cannabis 101” was an information-rich and compelling lecture. Ortiz’s return to his alma mater was a success, providing fervent commentary on the medical use of marijuana from his perspective.
More information on Dr. Ortiz can be found on his website, http://www.thehealthclinic.org.