State officials hiding behind federal law have turned the will of Massachusetts voters into a bureaucratic nightmare.

In 2012, Bay State voters overwhelmingly approved “An Act for the Humanitarian Use of Marijuana,” legalizing cannabis for medical use in the state. But due to persistent opposition and foot-dragging by Massachusetts government officials and law enforcement, implementing the will of the people has gone anything but smoothly.

The voter-approved measure clearly states the intent of the law in the first paragraph.

“The citizens of Massachusetts intend that there should be no punishment under state law for qualifying patients, physicians and health care professionals, personal caregivers for patients, or medical marijuana treatment center agents for the medical use of marijuana, as defined herein.”

But in practice, the Massachusetts medical marijuana program has fallen far short of expectations, primarily due to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s (DPH) failure to properly implement the program, along with law enforcement interference.

The licensing of dispensaries provides one example of how badly the DPH has missed the mark. Under the law, by 2014 there were supposed to be 35 operating medical marijuana dispensaries. As of today, only six exist. The DPH made the licensing procedures so onerous few people were willing to jump through the hoops. Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance development director Michael Latulippe said the licensing scheme was designed to fail from the beginning.

“The dispensary application process has been fuddled since the beginning and has had delays due to everything from the DPH not following its own points system in picking applicants to simple spelling errors on applications causing 60-plus day delays.”

The lack of dispensaries has created another problem – budget shortfalls. Fees paid by the 35 dispensaries were supposed to fund the program and make it revenue neutral. With only six facilities operating, the system faces a severe funding gap. As a result, the DPH began charging fees for patients seeking to obtain medical marijuana cards. This was not codified in the original law. Arguably, the DPH has no authority to levy such fees. But in a sneaky move, legislators attempted to codify the fees into law through an amendment to a budget bill that would have waived the fees for veterans. By waiving them, the legislature would have cemented the patient fees into statute.

“We believe that this proposed Senate budget amendment adding a waiver for veteran card fees would in effect codify the unlawful registration card fee into law, and eliminate our ability to fight the fees in the future.  While the intent of the amendment may have been positive, its outcome would be detrimental to all patients and change the definition of our law to a large degree by creating alternate revenue sources from those specified by the people in 2012,” Latulippe said.

Fortunately, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance became aware of the amendment and mobilized to stop it. After a strong push by activists, the