The smoke is getting thicker in the battle over a ballot question that would legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts.
Opponents and proponents of the ballot measure met in front of the State House yesterday during a rally that was organized by people and organizations against the question. It eventually turned into an outdoor debate on the issue.
"This has nothing to do with medical marijuana and everything to do with legalizing marijuana," said State Rep. Martin Walsh, of Dorchester, in front of dozens of question opponents that included doctors, recovering addicts, police chiefs and Norfolk's district attorney.
Question 3 would allow for the legalization of medical marijuana and proponents say the measure is about being compassionate and helping those with certain illnesses deal with chronic pain. But opponents argued yesterday that the "flawed" bill would lead to more crime and have negative impacts for addicts and communities.
Opponents also argued that the bill is a step that would make it easier and sooner before the drug is legalized in Massachusetts.
"This bill will lead us to legalizing this addictive drug in a few short years," said Heidi Heilman of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance.
But proponents who showed up to the opposition rally said opponents are trying to instill fear in voters.
"It has nothing to do with anything other than giving safe and legal access to Massachusetts residents who are sick and suffering and dying," said Karen Hawkes, a retried state police trooper who left her job after suffering a stroke. She said vaporized marijuana "gave me my life back."
Matt Anders, president of the Suffolk University chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that the opposition is "not reading the bill properly" if they claim it is a step toward legalizing marijuana altogether.
"They are basing their claims on experiences that happened in other states that have laws which differ significantly from the Massachusetts proposition," Anders said.
Proponents of Question 3 say the proposed legislation would create a felony for anyone who tries to fraudulently use it.
A ballot initiative in 2008 led to the decriminalization of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Poll results so far have shown that legalizing medical marijuana could soon follow.
A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire showed that likely Bay State voters supported Question 3 69 percent to 22 percent with 9 percent undecided.
Another poll, this one by Public Policy Polling, put Question's 3 support among Massachusetts voters at 60 percent.
A Suffolk University/7News poll found that 59 percent supported Question 3.
All of the polls were conducted in September.