Drug prevention groups asking for stricter marijuana law

Substance abuse prevention groups raised various concerns on medical marijuana dispensation, ranging from possible black market activities, dispensary regulation, to edible marijuana-infused products. In the public hearing on April 22, they shared their views on the marijuana draft regulations.

Dave Morgan, chairperson of the Weymouth Youth Coalition Substance Abuse Prevention Team, said that the maximum limit of 10 ounces for a 60-day supply is extraordinarily high, and it could lead to diversions. “Based on a study, heavy users, who met criteria for marijuana dependence, used an average of 2 ounces per month.  The 10-ounce limit will tempt many people to request a 10-ounce recommendation, use up to 4 ounces per 60 days and divert the rest,” he said.

Morgan also proposed that all marijuana dispensaries should report their sales to the health officials like any other pharmacy. “Medical marijuana treatment centers must submit sales to the state Prescription Monitoring Program, as well as using the physician look-up as pharmacies are currently required to do,” he said.

His suggestion was supported by MaryanneFrangules, executive director of Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery. She said that the system will help physicians identify warning signs of addiction and prevent “doctor shopping” for excessive quantities of prescription drugs.

Another group, Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, advised the DPH to define marijuana-infused product as both a food and a drug, therefore subject to the state’s food and drug safety laws. One of its members, Jody Hensley from Westboro, Mass., argued that the draft regulation runs counter to the public health and well-being of the citizens.

“By excluding these products from being defined as a food or drug, DPH is blatantly circumventing food and drug safety regulations. This exception must be deleted from this definition in this regulation.  Why avoid safety standards?” Hensley said.

She noted that the DPH’s definition will exempt the products, like cookies, chocolate and juice, from the state’s food safety guidelines. “These products should be under supervision of the Massachusetts Food Protection Program, within Bureau of Environmental Health in the Department of Public Health,” she said.

Her view on the food products was also highlighted by Morgan, who said, “This is compounding and it needs to be regulated by FDA and Board of Pharmacy.”

The DPH’s proposed regulation allows any dispensary to have one growing house outside of its distribution store. On this matter, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance said there should be a notification to the community where a marijuana cultivation will be located. “Communities should be notified. The risk of diversion is too high to leave local officials unaware of potential marijuana sources in the neighborhoods,”Heidi Heilman, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, said.

Commenting on the draft in general, these organizations shared the same opinion that the state’s oversight obligations are weak because inspections on dispensaries are optional rather than mandatory, and are not regularly scheduled.Heidi Heilmann referred to the recent case in Maine where marijuana growing facilities violated regulations including use of pesticides.  She said the DPH must include a requirement for inspection and testing for contaminants.  “Medical marijuana treatment center licensing fees should be high enough to pay for the staffing required to do this properly,” she said.


Attorneys and advocacy groups raised comments on dispensary rules

While noting that the majority of the regulations drafted by the DPH are well-thought out, several attorneys and coalitions of entrepreneurs said some regulations related to dispensaries are too restrictive and need to be reconsidered.

In a public hearing at the DPH office held April 22, a Massachusetts-based attorney Douglas Noble addressed two issues related to marijuana dispensary. First, the requirement that a dispensary must be operational within 120 days after its application approved by the DPH.

Noble said, “A hundred and twenty days may be a very unrealistic time frame to become operational with all of the uncertainties which exist with zoning issues, and being the first to open marijuana treatment centers in Massachusetts. But this may become less an issue for future developments.” He  proposed change to allow staff to extend the time frame, so long as the applicant is making substantial continuing progress to completion.

His second concern was related to a requirement that, when applying for a certificate of dispensary, every applicant must put at least $500,000 in an escrow account, which is to ensure that applicants have enough resources to operate. He recommended that upon the approval of an applicant, the escrow money should be released for the purpose of becoming fully operational.

Noble’s suggestion to extend the time frame was also voiced by Kris Krane, managing partner of 4Front Advisors, an Arizona-based consulting firm that provides marijuana dispensaries support in business operations and legal issues.

Krane said, “It will undoubtedly lead to certificate winners being forced to forfeit their permit.  Construction and build out of large-scale cultivation facilities can take a few months, and that doesn’t account for the time needed to pull building permits from local jurisdictions, a process that can take months in and of itself.” As a solution, he suggested the DPH to consider either extending this period to at least six months or building in a mechanism for operators to apply for extensions based on reasonable delays in permitting or construction.

As a representative of an organization whose clients are marijuana dispensaries and business entities throughout the country, Krane also asked the DPH to allow marijuana dispensaries to wholesale amongst themselves, which is similar to the Arizona marijuana program. “Wholesaling or trading amongst them will ensure that dispensaries have a more varied and robust product line for patients. If a dispensary in western Massachusetts is growing an effective strain (high CBD for example), they should be able to make it available to patients in more high-density places like the Boston area by wholesaling or trading with dispensaries in Boston,” he said.

The draft regulation allows a registered qualifying patient to change his or her designated treatment center only once every 120-day period.  Most representatives from the various groups attending the public hearing proposed to change this. One of them was by Tamar Todd, a staff attorney of the Drug Policy Alliance, a California-based advocate group for new drug policies.

Todd said experience in other medical marijuana states shows that producers and dispensaries may experience difficulty consistently providing enough marijuana to the patients in the amount they need. “If a treatment center runs out of marijuana or experiences crop failure or disease, patients registered with that dispensary will be forced to wait up to 120 days before being able to obtain marijuana from another dispensary. This regulation should be revised to allow patients to change their designation before 120 days, or else to allow a patient to designate multiple dispensaries at one time,” he said.

Another issue was raised by Michael Kann, an analytical chemist and pharmaceutical scientist, who argued the current draft is lack of clarity in quality control standards. He said the draft requires only cannabinoid profile testing, which would list ingredients without specific quantities of active cannabinoids. “Marijuana patients should have access to the specific information of the active ingredients. We use this information to make informed choices, just like we know Excedrin displays the number of milligrams of caffeine, ibuprofen, and aspirin found in a pill,” he said.

He admitted the testing is costly and complicated, and argued that reliance on self-regulation can lead to poor quality and compromised safety, as recently seen in the compounding pharmacy, oil industries and a dispensary in Maine that used pesticides in their growing facility.

“A reasonable solution is to specify in the bill a pathway for the creation of certified third-party laboratories that will provide proper cost-effective testing for multiple dispensaries,” he suggested. He said this mechanism will promote a conscientious and transparent medical treatment.

After this hearing, a small team in the DPH works on the draft again. Then, the team will present its new draft to the DPH council on May 8, and if the regulations be adopted by the council that day, they will go into effect by May 24.


Award-winning program guides Dorchester’s youth to college

By E. Wendratama

College Bound Dorchester’s College Connections program has received a Community Partnership Award from Mutual of America for its work in guiding the neighborhood’s high school dropouts toward college.

College Connections offers high school dropouts aged 16 to 27 courses in English, Social Studies, Science, Humanities and Math. The program is entirely free, and experts on staff assist individuals outside these core areas.

“We focus on students who are struggling, having a hard time, who have dropped out of high school, students that other college-focused programs don’t really work with,” said Mark Culliton, College Bound’s CEO.

“Our students are wearing a veil of disruption … doing bad things, being involved in gangs or violence. They’re wearing that cloak of negative behavior. But we don’t believe that’s who they are. We help them to take that cloak off, to allow who they really are to come through, to get into and succeed in college.”

The program currently enrolls 380 students, and recruit students through neighborhood associations and from word of mouth through current and former students.

Mutual of America, an insurance company, has been awarding non-profit organizations since 1996. Ted Herman, vice chairman of Mutual of America, presented the award to Culliton on April 4 for making meaningful contributions to the community.

“Our independent committee applauds the College Connections program for addressing the unique needs of students who have left high school prior to graduating,” he said.  The award comes with a $25,000 grant.

Since the program’s start four years ago, 88 students have received their GED and 56 students have advanced to college. Three-quarters of these enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College, a College Bound partner. Recognizing that financing for college can be a significant barrier, College Bound also partners with UAspire, an organization that provides loans to students.

College Bound has four facilities throughout Dorchester and operates out of an administrative office on SamosetStreet in Shawmut. Culliton said programs like this can help to turn an entire community. “A neighborhood stays bad because their young people stay there,” he said. “They create a pattern of negativity. To make Dorchester a better place, the young people need to go to college and leave this place. This is true in any neighborhood. That’s what we’re doing, giving them hope and opportunity.”

He said that in a bad neighborhood, the people who control the streets and make them a scary place are predominantly teens and young adults who have dropped out of high school.

“So we come and work with them, we’re going to show them a different path,” he said.

Alberto Rodriguez, 19, is a typical student in the program. He dropped out of high school, and before joining the College Bound he said he was “just on the streets.”

Two years ago, his girlfriend asked him to join the program.

“At first I didn’t take the class seriously,because I took it so I could date the girl,”he said. “It was on-and-off, it took me a while, but eventually I got it. Now I’m serious about it, and I know that I want to go to college and get a job.”

He spends every weekday in College Bound’s Little House in Savin Hill from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jermaine Hamilton finished the College Connections program three years ago and is currently a Brandeis University student.

“I was a former drug dealer, and I went to College Bound for a second chance,” he said. “Kamau [Parker] was my educator, and I could relate to his troubled past and was inspired by his experience.”

Among the program’s educators are those who’ve made it off the streets and who have the experience to help students like Hamilton, said Parker, who has been working for College Bound for six years.

Parker said he’s happy with how Rodriguez has participated in the program.

“When Alberto joined us, he was not Alberto now,” he said. “He didn’t come here every day, didn’t follow instruction. But we just pushed him to keep coming. And at some point, something clicks, and he could figure it out by himself. That’s what we do to our students.”

Parker also said it’s important for the staff to have the same vested interests as the students do. “We’re looking for staff who come from the same community. It gives us a different piece of leverage to stand on when we talk to the students. Trust is a very important thing. The students need to trust us,” he said.

Culliton said College Connections succeeds in guiding 26 to 28 percent of the students through the program and on to college.

“It’s a low percentage compared to our other programs that have 50 to 80 percent. But without any programs, students who go to college are between 6 to 11 percent,” he said.

He said this year’s budget is $1.8 million, with $300,000 coming from government sources, and the rest coming from the private sector.

College Connections plans to enroll 600 students and increase its budget to  $2.6 million by 2017, said Culliton. “We hope 60 percent of the budget would be from government,” he added.


Emerson panel debates 2nd Amendment’s reach

Gun Discussion

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In the third of a series of Emerson College panels on American’s “gun violence culture,”  panelists shared different interpretations of the Second Amendment, but agreed that politicians and not the courts should formulate gun control laws.

One of the four panelists, Mark Tushnet, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School, said he believes in the concept of “thin Constitution,” which relies on the people and their representatives to formulate gun regulations.

“Let the process be done in the political way, with the Court be in the end of the process,” he said at the college’s Bill Bordy Theater Tuesday. Tushnet added, the political way is also preferred by gun-rights advocacy groups, including NRA, in its efforts to fight virtually any limitations on gun rights.

The discussion was titled “The Second Amendment: What is it? What is it not?” and it started by showing the words of the Second Amendment, which reads simply, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ted Canova, the moderator and executive director of WGBH news, noted that when it was written in 1791, semi-automatic weapons did not exist. “What they meant by arms were muskets, and they’re completely different from weapons we see today.”

He then asked the two panelists from gun-rights groups about their view on this very different context today.

Karen MacNutt, a consulting attorney for gun-rights organizations, said she believes the same right is still applicable, since it’s only a matter of technology.

“The musket was an assault weapon of that day,” she said, noting that knives, the bow and arrow, and other traditional weapons existed when the Bill of Rights was written.

Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said that semi-automatic weapon has been around since 1890, and it’s not too different from what we have now.

“Only 15 percent of today’s weapons are semi-automatic, which are typically used for self-defense, and this type is very different from the fully automatic one,” he said. “People also talk about how guns killed innocent people, but they don’t discuss how many times firearms stopped criminals.”

His group, Commonwealth Second Amendment,  filed suit last month in US District Court in Boston against four Massachusetts police chiefs alleging that they violated six citizens Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Another panelist was Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law professor at Boston College. He said cultural background plays big part in the gun debate. “It depends on how one’s culture views guns and interprets the Second Amendment,” he said. “Research shows that there’s a link between gun ownership and cultural and political viewpoint.”

Tushnet agreed that there are basically two groups with different social visions. “One group sees gun possession as liberty, and the second sees it as an aggressive action. In theory, we just need to find the balance of interests,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings,  President Barack Obama continues to push Congress to act on gun control bills that he says would reduce gun violence. These include efforts to require background checks and limit the number of rounds in the magazines of semi-automatic weapons.

On Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut signed a gun control bill considered as one of the toughest gun laws in the country. It includes background checks for private gun sales and a ban on sales of high-capacity magazines. The bill was applauded by the family members of the Newtown shooting.


Savin Hill residents shake off daytime stabbing

Savin Scoop, the most favorite ice cream shop in Savin Hill
Savin Scoop, an ice cream shop near the T stop.

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Several Savin Hill residents dismissed a brazen daylight stabbing near the Savin Hill T station Monday, saying the attack was not a random crime and would not affect the neighborhood’s reputation.

“It was a tragedy, but I think it doesn’t represent a safety issue in the neighborhood,” said Andrea Rossi, who saw the victim when she collapsed in front of Savin Scoop, a local ice cream shop. “She fell on her face and blood on her back. It was shocking. I could not work for the rest of that day.”

The attack took place on Monday afternoon when a 21-year-old mother was stabbed multiple times by a teenage girl assisted by her 19-year-old boyfriend, the victim’s ex-boyfriend. The victim, Angeleek Barros, was taken to the hospital in a serious but stable condition. The 17-year-old attacker, Samia Jones, was arrested shortly after the attack. On Thursday, police arrested Daquan Sparks, the boyfriend, in Quincy.

Ross works part-time at At Home Real Estate and Savin Scoop, adjoining businesses. Her views were shared by others who work in the neighborhood.
Jennifer Merritt, a worker at Kennedy Cleaners, said, “It’s horrible, but it’s not a random crime. Savin Hill, particularly this area, is a nice place. I always consider Savin Hill as one of the safest neighborhoods in Dorchester. My friends from outside Savin Hill also see that.”

Maria Fernanda who works as a janitor at the T station said, “It really saddens me, they attacked the girl in front of her baby boy. But residents here are good people. I think it’s still safe.”

Some residents who use the T station on daily basis, like Kevin McKenzie and James Santiago, said they were not aware of the assault. “I didn’t know about that. But I think it’s a pretty safe area. I read that the crime rate is decreasing,” McKenzie said. Santiago didn’t know about the incident, but he acknowledged that crime is an issue in Dorchester. “Crimes happen here, but mostly I think drug-related,” Santiago said.

According to the BPD, the number of crimes in Dorchester during the last three months has decreased compared to the same period last year. Between January and April this year, there were 550 cases in total, while the record shows there were 617 cases in the same period last year.


The business of dispensing marijuana

By Engelbertus Wendratama

One person who is eagerly anticipating the medical marijuana business in Boston is Jon Napoli. As the owner of Boston Gardener, a store supplying urban gardening needs, Napoli has been teaching classes on how to grow marijuana since January. He hopes when the medical marijuana law is implemented in May, marijuana patients would consider his place as a reliable source to obtain their medicine.

“The law allows some patients and caregivers to grow marijuana by themselves. The class is also for those who want to open marijuana dispensaries,” Napoli said.

As a businessman who plans to apply for a marijuana dispensary license, he said he didn’t know exactly the potential market in Boston, but he’s optimistic about it, given the number of people supporting the marijuana referendum last year.

Napoli is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Patient Care, an advocacy group for medical marijuana industry professionals. “CRPC is helping the DPH formulate the regulations, in such a way that is beneficial for business like mine, for patients, and for the state. They have submitted recommendations to the DPH, based on other states’ experience,” Napoli said.

Napoli said he believes the CRPC would help create better condition for the marijuana business. The state has adopted a non-profit model for marijuana dispensation, which means any profit made must go back to the dispensary, not for the financial benefit of its owners or shareholders as in a for-profit model.

However, it’s still not clear what kind of non-profits the Massachusetts dispensaries would be. IRS classifies non-profits into 15 categories, and each has its own characteristics in terms of its operation and tax system. Leah Harris, membership coordinator at Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., said other states don’t relate their dispensaries with the IRS classifications.  “The states laws that require dispensaries to be non-profit don’t require them to have an IRS designation as a non-profit, because the feds are not expected to grant non-profit status,” Harris said.

The DPH is still working on the regulations, and they will hold a public hearing to receive further comment on the proposed regulations April 19.

Regardless the non-profit regulations adopted by the state, Jon Napoli said he believes the best model for dispensary is a for-profit. “I think eventually we will go that way (for-profit). By this, the dispensary will be better regulated and could generate more revenue to the state. But for now, the non-profit is good,” he said. “I think in 2016 we will have a referendum to have for-profit model, like in Colorado, where marijuana is considered in the same class as tobacco and alcohol,” he said.

The same aspiration was voiced by Addison DeMoura, vice president of Steep Hill, a cannabis analysis laboratory whose clients are dispensaries located in California and Colorado. “We can compare the two states’ experiences. Colorado is a better and safer environment for patients, businesses and the public than in California,” DeMoura said. “To the state, it means more revenue too. In this economy, I guess it’s the option people would like to have.”


Regulating marijuana dispensation in Massachusetts

By Engelbertus Wendratama

In a “listening session” on medical marijuana held Feb. 16 at the Roxbury Community Center, David Kelly, a disabled patient and disability activist, asked Massachusetts health officials to leave the marijuana prescription up to the physicians.

“There are different strains of marijuana, each for a particular condition of the patient. Only the doctor knows this, so this should be a doctor-patient area, not the health officials,” Kelly said.

Under the medical marijuana law passed last November, it is the state’s Department of Public Health that is authorized to formulate the marijuana dispensation regulations. The law said the DPH rules should be ready before May.

Lauren Smith, interim DPH commissioner, acknowledged that “this is a broad issue”, and her department needs to hear from the public.

Eric McCoy, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and gets marijuana in the black market, said that some patients should be given cultivation rights due to their financial hardship or physical incapacity.

Kelly, McCoy and other patients said they received big benefits from using cannabis, and the rules should not deny their rights to access it.

One major concern, however, is one that is shared by all states: the federal government classifies cannabis as an illegal Class I drug, the strictest classification on par with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

This legal contradiction started in 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana use. Now 18 states and the Dictrict of Columbia have made it legal, but the federal law remains the same.

In March 2011, the FBI raided 26 medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana. The FBI destroyed the plants and filed charges against the owners.

Chris William, one of the owners, in an interview with a documentary filmmaker Rebecca Cohen said, “We’re operating clearly under the state law, but the FBI told us that the gardens were illegal under federal law and had to be destroyed.”

Three months later, came a clarification regarding the raid. The US Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote, “Distribution and sale of marijuana is a dangerous crime. ….medical marijuana patients will be free from prosecutions, but not the industrial growers.”

Jon Napoli, owner of Boston Gardener in Dudley Square, plans to apply for a dispensary license once the DPH rules are ready. He said, “The federal law obviously needs to change. There are several bills in Congress being considered right now.”

When marijuana becomes legal at the federal level, states will likely to adopt a for-profit model, like Colorado’s model, where marijuana is considered the same as tobacco and alcohol.

Cannabis tourism in Colorado only gives more pressure to the federal government to make marijuana legal, since it has potential to generate significant tax revenue for the state.

According to Marijuana Policy Project’s report, a national market for medical marijuana was worth  $1.7 billion in 2011 and could reach $8.9 billion in 2016. In 2011, California and Colorado markets represented 92% of  the wholesale and retail sales across the country. California is the largest market, while Colorado hosts the fastest growing and most business-friendly market.

Massachusetts is adopting a non-profit model for dispensaries. It sees the dispensary being a caregiver which works on slim margin and where fees are “reasonably” calculated to cover overhead costs and operating expenses.

Stephen Cottens, an attorney from Newton, Mass., said his firm is ready to give legal advice to any related party. He said, “Here in Massachusetts, we can have the most regulated marijuana industry in the country.”

Cottens was one of attorneys coming from both Massachusetts and other states. They all plan to advocate for the patients or entrepreneurs, and a number of them have set up patients or dispensaries coalitions.

Lauren Smith (standing), interim commissioner of the DPH, led the second of three listening sessions on marijuana dispensation in Massachusetts.
Chairperson of Substance Abuse Prevention Team in Weymouth, Dave Morgan, said that the DPH should make a set of strict regulations. He’s one of the opponents of the marijuana referendum back in November.
David Kelly emphasized the importance of giving the prescription rights to the doctors because marijuana is a unique substance. “It’s different from alcohol, heroin and cocaine,” he said.
Jon Napoli (right) and Robert Johnson (center) plan to open marijuana dispensaries in the state. Scott Murphy (left), an Iraq War veteran, asked the DPH to allow the use of marijuana for PTSD patients like him.
Anne Buechs (left) and Tara Doran (middle) are from South Boston Action for Substance Abuse Prevention. They emphasized the importance of strict marijuana rules.
Eric McCoy, suffering from multiple sclerosis, has been using cannabis for 17 years. “It gives me energy, ability to function,” he said.
John Carmichael (speaking), Deputy Chief Police of Walpole Police Department, said, “We don’t necessarily agree with what happens, but we move along. And it will be naïve to think that there’s not gonna be a diversion in the implementation.”
Rob Hunt is an attorney and the chairman of Coalition for Responsible Patient Care. Founded in October 2012, the members of CRPC are marijuana patients and entrepreneurs who want to open dispensaries in Massachusetts.

Changes on the new Mass. marijuana law?

By Engelbertus Wendratama

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg is likely the most quoted state legislator on the medical marijuana issue. As one of the proponents of the Massachusetts medical marijuana initiative, the democratic senator said he believed that the new medical marijuana law is too loose in two aspects, and he’s trying to fix them.

First is the cultivation right granted to some patients, like disabled people, who don’t have access to a dispensary, which cultivates, processes and sells medical marijuana. “I think there’s no need for this, it opens the possibility of access to some marijuana for recreational use, which is not the purpose of the new law,” Rosenberg said.

His second concern is who will have the authority to decide the conditions which would qualify a person for access to the medical plant. According to the new law passed on Nov. 6, the individual doctors have this authority. But Rosenberg disagred with that. “I think the Department of Public Health should have the authority to make the determination, not individual doctors as to what conditions would be appropriate for access,” he said.

Under the ballot question, the  Department of Public Health is responsible for regulating medical marijuana in Massachusetts. “I’m waiting for the new Commissioner at the Department of Public Health to be named before following up,” he said.

Meredith Rosenthal, a member of the state public health council and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, “The DPH will make a thorough study of the issue, look to other states as models, and receive input from interested parties before presenting a proposal to the Public Health Council. We have much to learn before we can decide the best path for regulation.”

They have 120 days to issue the specific regulations after the effective date of this law on Jan. 1, 2013.

In this study and talk between the Legislature, state officials and interested parties, there could be arguments from the organizations and people who are in favor and against the law. But they will not go back to discuss, for example, whether marijuana is useful or not, but in how the state regulates the medical use of the plant.

The spokeswoman of two organizations that are opposed to each other agree with Rosenberg. Jennifer Manley of the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, a leader of the coalition supporting the measure, said she is ready to work with him. Heidi Heilman of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance that opposed the measure said, “I agree with him. The law needs specific conditions for the qualifying patients, and only under those conditions, there’s no ‘other conditions.’”

In the meantime, Boston City Councilor Rob Consalvo is asking the City Council to order a hearing to address the location of medical marijuana dispensaries. In this hearing, the City Council will discuss specific rules regarding the dispensaries and their locations in the city’s neighborhoods with government bodies such as the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the state Department of Public Health, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Police Department and the Department of Neighborhood Development.

Regarding the dispensaries and other issues, Mass. medical marijuana law is tighter than its counterpart in Colorado and California, two states that have the most marijuana dispensaries in the country.

State Comparison

Regulations Massachusetts Colorado California
Patient has a bona fide physician-patient relationship Required Required Not Required
Statewide patient registry system Required Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Oversight, registration and collection of fees Required Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Registration and background check for employees Required Not Required Not Required
Dispensaries: Jail and prison sentences for defrauding system Applied Not Applied Not Applied
Dispensaries: Maximum numbers in the state 35 No Limit (500 in Denver alone) No Limit (1,000 in LA alone)
Dispensaries: Maximum numbers per county 5 No Limit No Limit

The Murder of Munir: A Perfect Crime? (Chapter One)

This is the chapter one of The Murder of Munir: A Perfect Crime?, a narrative journalism on the murder of Munir Said Thalib, an Indonesian activist who was poisoned during a Jakarta-Amsterdam flight in 2004. This book was published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in Indonesian in 2009.

Most parts of the book were based on my observations, official records ― court records, police interrogations, and the investigation report of the Garuda Indonesia ― and interviews with people who were directly involved in the events. Other sources ― media or people indirectly involved ― were identified in the text. Munir’s case is the most sophisticated murder in the Indonesian history, and the case was not solved until present.


September 6, 2004. Indonesia, mainly Jakarta, was busy with the election—the first direct presidential election since its 1945 independence. It was 14 days before D-day of the second round election when Indonesians would determine whether Megawati Sukarnoputri or Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to become their next national leader.

At night, a married couple were having a conversation in front of a departure gate of the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. They would live in two different countries for the next 13 months after living together for 9 years. The husband, Munir Said Thalib, would pursue a master’s degree in humanitarian law at University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.

At 9:30 P.M., a P.A. announcer asked all Garuda Indonesia passengers of GA 974 with Amsterdam destination to board. A group of people rushing, many of them are Dutch citizens, and Munir would also use the service of his nation’s flagship airline.

The plane had a capacity of 418 passengers divided into economy, business, and premium classes. Boeing 747-400 was the largest aircraft operated by Garuda Indonesia.

When entering the cabin door, Munir met Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, a Garuda pilot who was called Polly. Polly’s status in this flight was extra crew, the crew who flew as a passenger and would work for other tasks. They met near the entrance to the business class, which was the front door. As an economy class passenger, Munir should have been closer to his seat when entering through the back door. It was not clear why he board through the front one.

Started with a conversation with Polly, Munir ended up in the business class, numbered 3K. This 3K seat belonged to Polly, while Munir’s was 40G.

Polly then went up to the cockpit on the second floor to have a little chat with the cockpit crew on duty. As they were preparing for take off, Polly was invited by purser Brahmanie to sit in the premium class since there were many empty seats available. Purser is a cabin leader responsible for the comfort of all passengers, including the transfer of their seats. The extra crew in his pilot uniform of white shirt and blue pants then took 11B seat.

There are two stories on Munir’s transfer into the business class, which according to Brahmanie and Polly.

In the District Court trial in Central Jakarta, Brahmanie as a witness testified, “When in front of the toilet business, I met with Polly. Then, Polly, holding a green boarding pass, asked in the Javanese, ‘Mbak, nomer 40G nang endi? Mbak, aku ijolan karo kancaku,’ (Miss, where is number 40G? Miss, I switched with my friend.), without mentioning his friend’s name. And I would like to know who was his friend. So, I visited seat 3K, and it was Munir sitting there, I instantly knew his name, he’s famous, then I shook his hand. Polly did not sit on the 40G, but in the premium class on 11B at my suggestion since there were a lot of empty seats.”

However, during an interview, Polly said, “I met Munir at the door of Garuda aircraft, at Jakarta airport. He asked at the door of the business class, ‘Where is seat 40G?’ I said, ‘You are in the economy class, sir, but I don’t know where is the seat.’ The plane can load about 420 people, it’s so big. Then, it’s lined up, there were plenty of other passengers going in, I’ll let go them in first. As a crew. It was part of our service to the passengers. After that, because I was about to step into the business class, I told Munir, “I was sitting in the business class, if you wanted to here, please ask the cabin leader first, if it’s allowed, please be my guest, if not I’m sorry.” That’s all our conversation, no more than that,” said Polly in a conversation at the Cipinang penitentiary, Jakarta.

Before takeoff, in the business class, Yeti Susmiarti presented welcome drink. Passengers were asked to choose among  a glass of champagne, orange juice, or apple juice. Munir chose orange juice. Finished with the drink, Yeti distributed sauna towel and offered newspapers to her passengers. All services were presented by Yeti herself, with the help of Oedi Irianto, a senior steward, who prepared her needs in the pantry.

At 10:02 p.m., the aircraft piloted by Captain Sabur Muhammad Taufik took off. To measure the takeoff and landing times accurately, the aviation industry uses the terms block off and block on. Block off means the time when the blocks for the aircraft wheels are taken off and the aircraft starts to make its way to the runway. Block on refers to the arrival time of the aircraft, that is, when the blocks for the wheels are set on.

About 15 minutes after departure, the flight attendants offered to the passengers several packed hot dishes on trays. Sitting on seat 3K, Munir chose fried noodle. After the dish was served, Yeti returned to offer some drinks; this time, there were more choices than the welcome drinks offered previously. The choices were alcoholic beverages (whiskey, gin, vodka, red wine, white wine and beer), soft drinks, Buavita apple and orange juices, Berry tomato juice, Ultra plain milk, Aqua mineral water, tea and coffee. Just as he did before, Munir chose orange juice.

After flying over Java and Sumatera islands and the seas around them for 1 hour and 38 minutes, GA 974 arrived at Changi Airport, Singapore at 12.40 a.m. local time. Singapore time is one hour earlier than Jakarta time. The cabin crews gave the passengers time to take a walk or do any activities in the airport for 45 minutes.

Because Munir got off the aircraft through business class exit door, he managed to get to Coffee Bean faster than those exiting via the economy class door. After dropping by in the coffee shop, he went back to the aircraft through gate D 42.

In his way back to Garuda, he was greeted by a man.

“You’re Mr. Munir, right?”

“Yes, I am, sir.”

“I’m dr. Tarmizi from Harapan Kita Hospital. What are you planning to do in The Netherlands?”

“I’m going to study, for a year.”



“Gee, Indonesia is surely going to miss you. You’re such an important person,” dr. Tarmizi commented.

“Well … it’s important for me, sir,” Munir replied, smiling.

“You wrote something about Aceh, didn’t you? Now, what about that, can things be settled down there?” asked the doctor, while walking with him.

“Well, it depends to the intention, doc.”

“What do you mean?”

“If the intention is to get things settled down, three months will do.”

Then the West-Sumatera-born doctor picked out his wallet and gave Munir his business card, saying, “If you need me sometime, just contact me.”

Munir took the business card, and they separated. The doctor got into the business class, and Munir headed to the rear door of the aircraft and sat at the economy class 40G seat, as listed in his boarding pass.

Since Polly’s air trip ended in Singapore, Munir went back to his original seat for Singapore-Amsterdam flight.

The total transit time at Changi (from block on to block off times) is 1 hour 13 minutes. It was the time spent for refueling, changing all cockpit and cabin crews, and admitting additional passengers from Singapore. The aircraft took off from Changi at 1.53 a.m. The flight to Schipol was headed by Captain Pantun Matondang, with Madjib Nasution as the purser.

Before the aircraft flew to the air, flight stewardess Tia checked the passengers’ readiness for takeoff. When doing her job, she was called by Munir, who requested for Promag, a medicine for heartburn. The flight attendant, whose full name is Tia Dewi Ambara, asked him to wait a while since the aircraft was taking off and all cabin crews had to be seated at their designated places.

About 15 minutes later, after the aircraft reached the safe altitude, Tia started to distribute blankets and earphones. She continued by doling out the before-sleep meal. At the time she reached seat 40G, the man in grey shirt and black jeans was sleeping.

Tia woke him up and asked, “Have you got your medicine from my fellow crew, sir?”

“No, not yet.”

“We’re sorry. We don’t have any.”

Tia then offered food, which Munir refused. But, the man asked for hot tea. Tia served the tea, poured from the teapot to a cup on the trolley. Munir received it, complete with 1 sachet of sugar.

When Tia continued serving other passengers, Munir passed her by at the alley to the toilet. It was the first time Munir went to the toilet, about 30 minutes after takeoff.

It had been three hours that the big plane flew and now it was in the Indian sky. Munir went to the toilet more often. When walking at the cabin alley, which was dim because only some reading lights were on, he crossed paths with the flight attendant Bondan Hernawa. He complained about having a severe stomachache and diarrhea to Bondan, and asked him to call for dr. Tarmizi who was seated in the business class. Munir gave him the doctor’s card.

Complying with the procedure for such situation, Bondan reported to Madjib Nasution, the purser, who was in the Purser Station.

“Bro, Mr. Munir, one of our passengers, is sick. He’s been defecating and vomiting many times. He’s got a friend, a doctor, sitting in the cabin somewhere, but I don’t know where. Look for him, please,” said Bondan, handing out dr. Tarmizi’s card to him.

Madjib looked for the passenger named dr. Tarmizi in the Passenger Manifest and found that his seat number was 1J. He had not yet got his chance to seek for it when Munir was already in front of the Purser Station. Holding his stomach, Munir said, “I have defecated so many times, and vomited as well. Maybe my heartburn relapses. I shouldn’t have drunk the orange juice on our Jakarta-Singapore flight just now.” Munir continued his way to the toilet.

Madjib and Bondan got themselves to 1J and found that dr. Tarmizi was sleeping at 1K, the seat on the right hand side of his own seat which, since he found empty, he thus sat on. “Doctor, doctor …,” Madjib tried to wake him up. Both Madjib and Bondan repeated several times more with louder voice, but the surgeon was still in his sound sleep.

Madjib once again met with Munir at the alley and asked him to wake dr. Tarmizi up by himself, while Bondan went to the pantry to do his scheduled tasks.

Finally, dr. Tarmizi woke up. Munir explained his condition, which at the time seemed to be very weak, by saying, “I have vomited and defecated six times since flying from Singapore.”

Dr. Tarmizi suggested to Madjib that Munir be moved to seat number 4 since that place was empty and close to him. Munir then sat on seat 4D, and dr. Tarmizi took the seat next to his left side.

“Mr. Munir, what have you been eating these last two days?” asked the doctor, who specializes in cardiovascular thorax surgery.

Munir was silent, maybe because of the pain in his stomach. The question was then responded by Madjib, who said, “Mr. Munir had some orange juice, yet he shouldn’t because of his heartburn.”

Munir stayed quiet, saying nothing.

“This is unlikely to be heartburn,” said the doctor, who then asked Munir, “What did you eat?”

“Just usual.”


“Just usual.”

“One day before yesterday?”

“Just usual.”

The doctor then conducted a first general check-up on Munir, by taking off his patient’s T-shirt. He found that the pulse on Munir’s wrist was weak. The doctor opined that it was an indication of lacking of liquid due to diarrhea and vomiting.

Munir went back to the toilet, followed by the doctor, steward, and stewardess. After vomiting and defecating, he went back to seat 4D, and kept on coughing severely.

Dr. Tarmizi asked a stewardess to get Doctor’s Emergency Kit, which must be available in every aircraft. The box was sealed. After looking at the box’s contents, he believed that the medicines available were scarcely sufficient, especially for the case of Munir. Dr. Tarmizi needed infusion to give to Munir, but there was not any; nor special medicine for heartburn and diarrhea.

The doctor thus took some from his own bag. He gave Munir New Diatabs, a medicine for diarrhea, Zantacts, a remedy for nausea, and Promag, a cure for sore and bloated stomach. Two tablets for the first medicine, and one each for the latter two.

Dr. Tarmizi then asked the stewardess to make a cup of sweet hot tea with a little salt added to it.

Five minutes after drinking the tea, however, Munir went back to the toilet.

Dr. Tarmizi saw him vomiting. The vomit burst with great force, having neither color nor particular odor. Physicians would call it projectile vomiting. When Munir continued to defecate, the doctor waited outside the toilet.

Munir finished after five minutes and opened the door. While leading Munir through the alley, dr. Tarmizi commented to purser Madjib, “Why there’s no infusion kit in this aircraft, which flies for such a long trip?”

Inside the aircraft medicine box there was Primperam, a liquid cure for nausea and vomiting, 5 ml (1 ampoule dose) of which was injected to Munir’s body by dr. Tarmizi. The dose injected on Munir’s left shoulder worked well since Munir fell asleep right after.

His suffering vanished for 2-3 hours.

Munir woke up and went back into the toilet. He was there long enough, about 10 minutes, and the toilet door was not completely shut. Madjib allowed himself to take a peek through the gap and knocked the door, but no response was given by the person inside, who was struggling against great pain.

Madjib opened the door and saw the 38-year-old man was leaning limply on the toilet wall.

Purser Madjib immediately called the doctor, who for the last half an hour knew the most about the passenger’s condition.

Dr. Tarmizi asked Madjib and steward Asep Rohman to carry Munir back to seat 4D.

After seated, Munir was checked by dr. Tarmizi, in the less-lighted cabin which was illuminated only by reading lights. This condition was inevitable since it was the standard flight rule. First the wrist, and then the stomach. When his belly was poked by the doctor, Munir moaned, ‘Aw, it hurts,’ while holding his upper stomach.

Madjib suggested Munir to do Istighfar, and Munir replied by reciting, “Astaghfirullah Haladzim, La Illaha Illa Llah.” His hands kept holding his stomach.

Flight attendant Titik Murwati, who was nearby, initiatively gave Munir some rubbing balm, something which she expected to help relieve her passenger’s pain. With dr. Tarmizi’s approval, Titik applied on Munir’s stomach the balm, which could give warmth to it.

Munir said that he wanted to rest due to fatigue.

Dr. Tarmizi opened the medicine box again and took injection drug Diazepam. This time, assisted by purser Madjib, the doctor injected 5 mg on Munir’s right shoulder.

The time between the two injections Munir received was about 4-5 hours.

After the tranquilizer was injected, Munir still felt the heartburn. Fifteen minutes passed and Munir went back to the toilet, accompanied by the doctor, purser, and stewardess. In the toilet, Munir vomited and defecated.

Back to his seat, Munir said that he wanted to sleep on his back. The purser and his subordinate spread a blanket as a place mat on the floor in front of seats 4D-E and a pillow on it. Munir lied down there, with two more blankets put on to warm him.

Dr. Tarmizi told the cabin crew that Munir be kept an eye on, and that he wanted to have some rest because the next day he had a job (he later explained he was to conduct a heart surgery in a hospital in Swole). He asked to be woken up in case something happened with Munir; then told them to make sure that the doctor from Amsterdam who was going to take care of Munir the next day should bring with him infusions. Afterwards, the doctor went back to seat 1K and slept.

Munir could now have some sleep, but he changed his sleeping position many times, and it was always sideling, never on his back or on his stomach.

Madjib kept on being standby, looking after Munir, until 3 hours before the aircraft arrived at Schipol Airport, when the cabin crews prepared breakfast for the passengers. Madjib walked to dr. Tarmizi’s seat and asked if he should wake Munir up for breakfast. Dr. Tarmizi suggested that Munir should be let asleep. Madjib then did his routine, overseeing things inside the cabin.

About 2 hours before the aircraft landed, at 05:10 GMT or 12:10 PM Jakarta time, when breakfast time and the cabin lights were still on, again Madjib made his way to visit Munir’s ‘rest place’.

In front of seats 4D-E, he saw Munir’s body was in oblique position, facing the seats; there was non-foaming saliva coming out of his mouth, and his hands turned blue. Madjib held Munir’s hands and he felt cold. Madjib, shocked by his finding, rushed to the doctor’s seat.

The doctor held Munir’s wrist with his one hand, and his other hand patted Munir’s back. Repeatedly he called, “Mr. Munir… Mr. Munir…”

Finally, looking at purser Madjib in the eye, dr. Tarmizi said weakly, “Purser, Mr. Munir is dead… How can it be this soon, I wonder? If it’s only because of diarrhea and vomiting, humans can stand for three days.”

Purser Madjib asked Bondan and Asep to help him lift Munir’s stiff body to a better place: the floor in front of seats 4J-K. Munir lied on two sheets of blanket, his eyes were closed by Bondan, his body was covered with a blanket.

Bondan and Asep recited Surah Ya Sin in front of the remains of Munir Said Thalib, forty thousand feet above the land of Rumania.


Latest update about the case: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/lawandorder/questions-remain-on-munir-8-years-on/542865