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Fundraising email leads to sparring between marijuana legalization opponents and proponents

BOSTON – Supporters and opponents of legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts on Thursday clahed over a fundraising email sent by the pro-marijuana camp and exchanged words about the ballot question on legalization, Question 4, potentially easing the opioid epidemic.

Earlier this week, Will Luzier, who is running the "Yes on 4" campaign, sent an email to supporters saying legalization will "help address the opioid crisis by allowing adults 21 and older to use marijuana responsibly, without needing approval from a physician or the government."

Given that the state's medical marijuana system is "barely functional," he continued, the legalization of recreational marijuana will allow medical marijuana patients to "seek help for debilitating diseases and chronic pain without committing a crime."

"How many more people must die before we allow Massachusetts adults to use marijuana — a substance that's safer than opioids, alcohol, and tobacco?" he wrote before asking for a donation.

But in a letter circulated by opponents of legalization, 45 people describing themselves as "health care CEOs, recovery specialists and parents who have lost their children to opioid addiction" hit back.

"We found your use of those who have lost their lives to opioids as a hook for raising money for the commercial marijuana industry's ballot measure to be deeply troubling," they wrote.

Legalization would worsen the opioid crisis, the letter claimed.

"We also found your effort to repackage your recreational pot ballot measure as medical marijuana to be deceptive to voters," the letter, addressed to Luzier, said. "It's cynical and misleading to use patients who desire to access medical marijuana for debilitating and chronic pain as a justification for legalizing recreational marijuana, which would allow the marijuana industry to promote and sell marijuana at mass quantities, for any reason."

The letter was signed by Kurt Isaacson, president and CEO of Spectrum Health Systems, Inc.; Bill Sprague, president and CEO of Bay Cove Human Services; Kevin Norton, CEO of Lahey Health Behavioral Services; Maryanne Frangules, CEO of Mass. Organization for Addiction Recovery; Vic DiGravio, president and CEO of Association for Behavioral Health; and Mike Duggan, founder of Wicked Sober, Inc., among others.

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012, though state officials under Gov. Deval Patrick moved slowly to implement the measure. The state currently has six medical marijuana shops, with others in the regulatory pipeline revamped by Gov. Charlie Baker's administration.

"We wonder if the folks being used as props by our opponents are actually aware of the veterans, federal employees and other individuals who could benefit from therapeutic marijuana but who for many reasons cannot access marijuana under the existing system," Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the "Yes on 4" campaign, said in an email.

Some people don't want to go on the medical marijuana patient registry because they fear losing their military benefits or federal employee benefits, while others cannot afford a medical marijuana card or they don't have access to the "handful" of dispensaries currently in operation in Massachusetts, he added.