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Marijuana Legalization Effort Irks Massachusetts Politicos

A scene from the 2013 Boston Freedom Rally (Kit Friday). freedomleaf.com
A scene from the 2013 Boston Freedom Rally (Kit Friday).

By Chris Goldstein

Voters in the Bay State will likely have the chance to tax and regulate cannabis on election day this November.

A ballot initiative sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and backed by the Marijuana Policy Project is on track to secure enough petition signatures to qualify. The proposal calls for retail sales and home cultivation for adults 21 and over.

Massachusetts voters have already gone to the polls twice and approved marijuana reforms: decriminalization in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012. So it seems the sentiment of the state is already aligned to fully end prohibition. And that has politicians freaking out.

A report by a special team of Massachusetts state legislators was released today. This followed their January visit to Colorado to dance with Mary Jane in person. Several state senators toured Colorado retail locations, where they saw live plants, dried buds, edibles and hash oils. They held video conferences with regulators in Washington State as well.

The report focuses on perceived negatives and recommends caution. They particularly want to limit edibles, eliminate home growing and set much higher tax rates than the initiative proposes. Although voters can pass the bill, it will be up to the legislature to regulate and implement. Read the report here.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s spokesman Jim Borghesani told the Boston Globe: “It appears some committee members traveled to Colorado with a bias against regulating marijuana and sought information to buttress their positions.”

Massachusetts may be the first place where a law passed by voters faces more open opposition and meddling by professional politicians. Earlier this week Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healy co-authored an op-ed in the Boston Globe condemning legalization outright. Gov. Baker has long been a vocal opponent of legalization.

They cited a litany of misleading – and often outright false – points, including already debunked studies on teen use rates and neuroscience, and skewed data from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

The trio concluded:

Our emergency departments and drug treatment centers are beyond capacity, and our first responders are stretched to their limits. We should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources.

Massachusetts residents already enjoy a wonderful culture of cannabis. In fact, the largest marijuana event on the East Coast, the Boston Freedom Rally, draws more than 50,000 people to the Boston Common each September.

Somehow Baker, Walsh and Healy are under the false assumption that cannabis currently doesn’t exist in Massachusetts and that a legalization bill will, magically, make weed suddenly appear.

If the initiative gets on the ballot and is successful this fall, the people of Massachusetts will need to make sure that the letter and spirit of the law is dutifully enacted.