Baker fires back at marijuana campaign leaders

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BOSTON – Labeled a “hypocrite” last week by advocates who said his stance on legalizing retail sales of marijuana is at odds with his position on alcohol, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker pointed out the dramatic differences between pot and alcohol in wine, beer and booze.

“One is legal and one is not,” Baker said during a monthly appearance on WGBH-FM. “One is already operating under a pretty aggressive controlled operating model here in Massachusetts, and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission has a fair amount of jurisdiction over this stuff.”

Baker, a Republican, joined with Speaker Robert DeLeo, the leader of the state House of Representatives, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both Democrats, last week to kick off a campaign against a proposed ballot measure asking voters whether cannabis should be regulated like alcohol, with regulated retail sales to adults aged 21 and over. Notably absent from the event was Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat.

Advocates for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fired back, calling Walsh and Baker hypocrites for supporting policies they said encourage drinking alcohol. They pointed to efforts to give municipalities more local control of liquor licensing.

Dr. Sion Harris, co-director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Michelle Lipinski, director of Northshore Recovery School, also took issue with the pot advocates. On Wednesday, they wrote to Will Luzier, the leader of the legalization campaign, objecting to his description of marijuana as “relatively benign.”

“We can have a healthy debate on the issue of legalization, but the fact that marijuana is addictive and has a negative impact on young people is not debatable,” they wrote.

“Rather than discuss the real impact of your ballot measure, you are trying to misdirect voters,” the health leaders said. “Your claims at the press conference boiled down to this: If alcohol is harmful and legal, then why shouldn’t we legalize this other harmful substance as well? That makes no sense.”

Discussing the conclusions of a group of senators that traveled to Colorado to study the effects of marijuana legalization there, Baker said Thursday he “thought it was interesting” that the group found “almost all of the dispensaries were located right on the edge of working class and poorer communities.”

Written by Katie Lannan