07.29.2016
policy

Something Stinks in Massachusetts, and It's Not Dank Nugs

Boston's mayor and the state's governor are big on booze.

This coming November 8, Massachusetts has the chance to legalize recreational use of marijuana to adults over 21 years old by voting yes on the ballot's Marijuana Legalization Initiative. Given the victories both in 2008 (The Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of bud) and 2012 (The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative allows card-carrying patients to possess a 60-day supply), a good-faith observer might expect recreational to pass easily. After all, given the evidence of its victorious pro-cannabis elections, surely Massachusetts will prove to be among the country's more socially progressive states. Sadly, though, a string of bad press coupled with a two-headed political attack is threatening cannabis's winning streak in the Bay State.

The Marijuana Legalization Initiative was proposed and spearheaded by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts. The organization submitted 70,739 petition signatures (nearly 6,000 more than needed) from residents in favor of legalizing cannabis purchased through retail stores for personal use to the Secretary of State in December, 2015. Despite that initial momentum,  the legalization initiative is gearing up for a battle as November creeps closer.

Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh are both currently battling for more liquor licenses and longer drinking hours for Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, along with Boston's Mayor, Marty Walsh, are speaking out against allowing personal pot use in the state. The two politicians have launched a group named Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts to squash normalized recreational weed law. The anti-weed campaign has enlisted an army of doctors, law-enforcement officials, and so-called addiction specialists. 

Ignoring the success with tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales in Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Washington, and Washington D.C., which potentially can generate $100 million per year for each state, Baker and Walsh focus on attacking with the cost of marijuana-related emergencies and treatment, the oldie but goodie "gateway drug" argument, and the threat of children's easy access to edibles if the law passes.

Image via Flickr

Belying their concern about the costs of intoxication-related emergencies and treatment, Baker and Walsh are both currently battling for more liquor licenses and longer drinking hours for Massachusetts. Already, roughly 50 percent of all automobile deaths in the state come from alcohol-related accidents. Massachusetts also racks up nearly 100 deaths from alcohol poisoning each year. (Contrasted with zero fatal marijuana overdoses.)

Former Governor Duval Patrick had proposed extending public transportation operating hours into the early morning to reduce drinking and driving. That step in the right direction was halted earlier this year due to the $14 million needed to carry forward. Is it crazy to think the expected sales tax on recreational marijuana (10 to 12 percent) could foot the bill for 24-hour public transportation?

In contrast to the governor's speculation, the Washington 'Post' reports that states with legal weed see 25 percent fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses.

Baker and Walsh's crusade against basic marijuana rights sensationalizes recent local news stories to sway voters who might be on the canna-fence. Referencing the May 2016 death of Massachusetts State Trooper Thomas Clardy in a crash with medical marijuana patient David Njuguna, Baker said: "The fact that this gentlemen is alleged to have had marijuana in his system at the time that he crossed three lanes of traffic and at full speed ran into Trooper Clardy's vehicle raises questions that I hope are fully vetted."

Baker has also asserted that legal marijuana will worsen the opioid epidemic plaguing the state: "Legalizing recreational marijuana [would] threaten to reverse progress combating the growing opioid epidemic so this industry can rake in millions in profits.” In contrast to the governor's speculation, the Washington Post reports that states with legal weed see 25 percent fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses.

Complicating matters for recreational cannabis supporters are public perceptions that Massachusetts isn't running a squeaky-clean medical marijuana program. A 2013 investigation into cannabis dispensaries by WCVB Boston uncovered shady doctors and illegal practices. The Boston Globe's July 24 piece on marijuana dispensaries unveiled a "pay-to-play" scheme in which hopeful dispensaries must fork over large payments to cities and towns just to be considered for approval. The Globe insists that this cash-grab application system, if allowed to continue, will "drive up the costs of doing business while siphoning money from the dispensaries that could be used to lower prices for needy patients."

One thing in little David's favor is that Goliath, while bigger and stronger, can't legally remove the initiative from the ballot. The decision is in the hands of the people.

Local lawmakers position the entrance fees as down payments on an expected increased need for police presence. But according to James E. Smith, a Boston attorney for one marijuana company, “There has never been a police incident at one of these [dispensaries]. They carry less drugs than a CVS, but cities and towns say it will take extra police."

Brad Feuer, the CEO of Healer.com and Integr8 Health runs medical cannabis shops in both Massachusetts and Maine. Along with Dr. Dustin Sulak, Feuer's businesses write recommendations for medical weed, and focus on educating patients. "Legalization can only help everyone," Feuer tells The KIND. "Patients and people who suffer from many of the various conditions that cannabis can help will be able to access higher-quality medicines legally. If we look at what's happening in Colorado, we see a decrease in opioid related deaths, teen usage, crime, and DUIs. Most importantly, legalization will create more jobs and increase tax revenue to fund important public programs—while saving money by reducing costs in our legal system."

Image via Boston Globe

Fully 13 percent of Americans currently pop anti-depressants; 70 percent of us are taking some form of pharmaceutical drug. The size of the check we write to pay for all that Pharma-grade dope? Last year it was $374 billion, up 13 percent from 2014.

Although projected revenue from country-wide legalization of marijuana could one day bring in $24 billion per year, legalization is clearly a David vs Goliath battle here in Massachusetts. One thing in little David's favor is that Goliath, while bigger and stronger, can't legally remove the initiative from the ballot. The decision is in the hands of the people. Hopefully, the public won't buy into the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts's campaign to expand alcohol's presence and its desperate attempts to connect marijuana use to the opioid crisis and fall of civilization.

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