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Voters pass medical marijuana law

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana yesterday.

A ballot question that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses was too close to call late yesterday. People dealing with terminal illnesses also took a keen interest in the medical marijuana law, which will allow people with debilitating medical conditions to get the drug legally.

The law eliminates state criminal and civil penalties for the medical use of marijuana by people with cancer, hepatitis C, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, AIDS or other conditions determined by a patient’s doctor.

“It’s a good thing. It’s long overdue,” said Nancy Nangeroni, a web designer from Beverly who suffered a spine injury in a 2004 car accident and says there are days when marijuana is the only thing that allows her to work through her chronic pain. “This is going to make a lot of people’s lives a lot easier.”

Opponents said the law is ripe for abuse and fraud and could lead to a proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, or pot shops, which are difficult to regulate. And they said they saw the ballot question as the next step toward full legalization of marijuana.

In 2008, Massachusetts decriminalized possession of marijuana in amounts under 1 ounce.

The law will require patients to get written certifications from their doctors that they have specific medical conditions and would be likely to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for their personal medical use.

It will allow for non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers regulated by the state Department of Public Health to grow and provide marijuana to patients or their caregivers.

For patients who have limited access to a treatment center, the law will allow them to grow marijuana plants to produce 60-day supplies for personal use.

The pro-medical marijuana effort was bankrolled almost entirely by Ohio billionaire Peter Lewis, chairman of the board of the auto insurer Progressive Corp., who has helped fund similar efforts in other states.

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