Opinion

opinion | Meredith Warren

Mass. opioid battle is lost when marijuana is legalized

Members of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws held signs outside Quincy Market in 2007.

Globe file

Members of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws held signs outside Quincy Market in 2007.

Last year, more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents died from opioid overdoses. Judging by the constant stream of new obituaries — many for heartbreakingly young people with their entire lives ahead of them — there’s little reason to believe 2015 will be any different.

As Massachusetts mobilizes task forces, community meetings, and additional resources for first responders to combat these drugs, it defies imagination that some state lawmakers are at the same time considering legalizing an addictive drug for recreational use.

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More than a dozen legislators are pushing a bill to legalize marijuana for people over the age of 21. At the same time, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is floating the idea of a nonbinding marijuana legalization ballot question for voters to consider in 2016.

Rosenberg says he wants to ensure we aren’t stuck with a poorly constructed citizens petition to legalize marijuana. To be fair, he hasn’t taken a firm position for or against legalization. But when asked recently how he feels about legalized marijuana, Rosenberg said, “I think people should be allowed to do what they’re going to do unless they are going to hurt somebody else.”

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With messages like this coming from Beacon Hill, good luck to parents trying to keep their kids from becoming the next drug use statistic. Parents can’t deliver a clear message to teens about drug abuse through the haze of legalized marijuana.

The inclination of lawmakers to water down state drug policy is troubling, not to mention out of character. After all, they serve in a legislature that became famous for pondering whether to ban Fluff in public schools to protect public health.

When it comes to fighting drugs on our streets, we should not be retreating. The adage “Just say no” to drugs works a lot better as a declarative statement with no asterisk attached. Massachusetts is either serious about dealing with substance abuse or it’s not.

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It’s become popular to ask politicians running for office if they ever “inhaled.” Their seemingly more frequent admissions of guilt are seen as cool and edgy, or even humorous, rather than something to be embarrassed about. But drug use is no joke. It’s impossible for politicians to say with a straight face that they’re doing everything they can to curb drug abuse if they make marijuana readily available. If state lawmakers don’t take drug use seriously, why would we expect young people to?

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is one Massachusetts leader who is taking it seriously.

Walsh, who is open and forthcoming about being a recovering alcoholic, believes marijuana is a gateway drug and has publicly said he’ll lead the charge on opposing legalization.

Walsh’s concern is backed up by a report released by Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment two years after that state legalized recreational marijuana. “We found substantial evidence for associations between adolescent and young adult marijuana use and future addiction to illicit drugs in adulthood,” the report reads.

There’s a new trend starting to unfold on the obituary pages: Parents of young people who die from opioid overdoses have taken to writing the story of their child’s life as a warning to others that addiction can kill. They want others to learn a lesson from their heartbreak.

Lawmakers who think legalizing marijuana is a good idea should take heed.

Meredith Warren is a Republican political analyst and consultant. Her column appears regularly in the Globe.

Related:

Editorial: US Senate bill shows a way forward for marijuana laws

Letter: Legalize marijuana? It’s only natural

Opinion: A united front in the opioid battle

Opinion: Opioid use in women is not just ‘a fetus problem’

Letter: Marijuana policy could be answer to overdose epidemic

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