No to Massachusetts ‘weed greed’

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As Ohio goes, so should Massachusetts.

On Nov. 3, Ohio voters — in every one of its 88 counties — overwhelmingly rejected Issue 3, a ballot measure that would have launched a legal medical and recreational marijuana industry in the state.

Although certain aspects of the ballot question were unique to Ohio (concerns over a “grower cartel”), more than 100 organizations representing a broad cross section of medical, business, and law enforcement interests, among others, opposed the proposal, reported The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper. An editorial describing “irresponsible weed greed” cautioned voters: “There is no rush for Ohio to legalize marijuana for recreational use.”

Massachusetts voters should heed this call given that at least one initiative will likely be on the ballot next November seeking legalization of recreational marijuana. Only four states currently allow recreational use.

On Sept. 2, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey approved (her office is tasked with ensuring all ballot questions are constitutional) two competing ballot initiatives for consideration. One, sponsored by Bay State Repeal, proposes near unfettered restrictions; while the second, promoted by The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), proposes a reservoir of regulation and taxation, including a new state oversight commission.

Supporters of each measure must now submit 64,750 certified signatures to the Secretary of State’s office by Dec. 2 and achieve additional milestones to guarantee that each respective measure appears on the 2016 ballot.

Thus far, efforts to move marijuana into a greater sphere of cultural acceptance by commonwealth residents have proven remarkably successful. In 2008, voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot, and, in 2012, voters legalized medical marijuana – both times via ballot drives, notably during presidential cycles.

Last month, The Boston Globe revealed a “burgeoning number of patients seeking cannabis products,” as three state-sanctioned dispensaries recently opened. And confirms a steady rise in the number of people registering with the state’s Dept. of Public Health with medical conditions, a prerequisite for medical marijuana.

But now Massachusetts voters should refuse to sign another petition, reject any such ballot question and reprove all the ambitions of the pro-marijuana movement.

Shortly after Healey’s approval, with a flair for flippancy, CRMLA manager Will Luzier said that “people are fed up with laws that punish adults simply for consuming a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol.” He also added that Massachusetts is closer to a more “sensible policy.” Well.

Comparing marijuana to alcohol and implying pot is effectively just as harmless as distilled spirits is standard fare for advocates. Of more relevance, though, Forbes magazine in March cited a Colorado study that concluded marijuana’s “potency is higher than ever,” rising by a factor of three in the last decade. And perhaps more startlingly, the study found increased THC levels (the chemical responsible for most of the substance’s psychological effects, the “high”) and, ironically, a reduction in CBD content (a compound thought to have therapeutic value).

Before any dispensary opened in Massachusetts, the state ranked fifth in the nation for adults reporting marijuana use (14.19 percent), estimates the federal government. The significance of such widespread illicit use, the argument goes, is that these habits will not change. This, in turn, provokes the classic liberal response: more regulation (theoretically reducing a dangerous black market by a caring government) and taxation (feeding a more controlling government).

Beyond the philosophical, however, is the practical. With a state bureaucracy that can barely run trains (MBTA) or protect children from abuse and neglect (DCF) or deliver healthcare coverage (Health Connector), do reasonable people seriously believe that this state government can competently administer oversight of a substance for which the long term effects on the body and brain are unknown?

Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and House Speak Robert DeLeo are wisely resisting calls to loosen legal restrictions on marijuana as they all grapple with today’s massive opioid epidemic. Conversely, those who favor legalization seem bizarrely oblivious to this profane cultural condition which is affecting every corner of the commonwealth. And they seemingly find difficulty in acknowledging the mere possibility of the addictive qualities of marijuana.

Contributing columnist James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times. Read more of his columns here