BOSTON (AP) — State voters legalized medical marijuana on Tuesday and approved a law that will require new cars to have diagnostic systems that are accessible to all mechanics, not just the dealerships that sold them.
A ballot question that would legalize physician-assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses was too close to call late Tuesday. Opponents were slightly ahead with about half the votes counted.
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.
In contrast, the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, which was opposed, raised just $3,300.
"We just didn't have enough time and we certainly didn't have enough money. We got outspent 1 million to 1 by a guy from Ohio," said John Sofis Scheft, a spokesman for the opposition group.
If the suicide ballot question passes, Massachusetts would become the third state, after Oregon and Washington, to legalize physician-assisted suicide for people with terminal illnesses.
The initiative stemmed from a ballot petition filed by Boston-based Dignity 2012 and a terminally ill Stoughton man's 2009 attempt to get a similar bill passed in the state legislature. Lawmakers did not take action, and the man, Al Lipkind, died of stomach cancer.
Thirty-four states prohibit assisted suicide outright, while Massachusetts and six others banned it through common law.
Religious and medical groups and advocates for the disabled were the measure's primary opponents. They raised $1.6 million to fight it, compared with nearly $500,000 for supporters, mostly patients' rights and AIDS groups.
Supporters said the law would have effective safeguards, including prohibiting doctors from prescribing the drugs to people with depression or impaired judgment. The law would require patients to make two oral requests at least 15 days apart, then a written request signed by two witnesses.
Opponents said that the bill would be open to abuse and that patients might be influenced by family members or go from doctor to doctor until they found the required two to confirm they are terminally ill, not depressed and voluntarily requesting the prescription.
The auto repair law was the source of some confusion. Supporters first joined with auto manufacturers in urging voters to skip it but then changed course and encouraged voters to say yes.
The confusion came because both sides reached a compromise that was later approved by lawmakers and signed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, but not in time to remove the question from the ballot.
The compromise bill approved by lawmakers on the final day of the legislative session in July included some concessions to automakers. The industry has until 2018 to satisfy a mandate that all new cars sold in the state include onboard diagnostic and repair information systems that can easily be accessed with any typical laptop computer. The ballot question would have required such a system by 2015.
Passage of the ballot question supersedes the new law, but that would not preclude the Legislature from making further changes, or even reinstating the compromise, when it returns to Beacon Hill in January.