Opinion

Opinion | Dick Evans

On marijuana law, the Legislature is fixing something that isn’t broken

This picture taken on June 9, 2017 shows Peter Crook, chief executive of Cann group limited, examining two-months-old cannabis cuttings at an undisclosed location in Australia's Victoria state. At a secret location in Australia's southeast, Peter Crook delicately tends to a two-month-old cannabis cutting. Barely 30 centimetres (12 inches) tall, it is one of about 50 government-sanctioned "mother plants" to be cloned for future generations of crops for the country's fledgling medicinal marijuana industry. / AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN / TO GO WITH Australia-social-health-cannabis-drugs, FOCUS by Daniel DE CARTERETSAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Peter Crook tends to a two-month-old cannabis cutting in Australia.

Last November, voters of four states, including Massachusetts and Nevada, legalized marijuana. On July 1, licensed retail stores in Nevada opened their doors to adult customers, and the state began collecting revenue, aiming to raise a fresh $70 million over the next two years. Their biggest problem so far has been an inventory shortage.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Legislature, after steadfastly ducking marijuana law reform for decades, extended implementation dates, and has been dithering over how to fix something that isn’t broken. By now the governor and treasurer should have made the necessary appointments who would be close to providing business guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs, and safe and legal access to consumers.

Instead, the House and Senate are deadlocked over whether the marijuana industry should be regulated like the alcohol industry, as the voters declared when they said yes to an initiative formally titled An Act to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or like casinos, as the House bill proposes. It repeals Question 4 and replaces it with exceedingly tight restrictions on participation in the new industry, setting the tax rate so high as to sustain a robust black market.

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It’s easy to castigate the Legislature for making a mess of the voters’ accomplishments, but let’s cut them some slack. It’s got to be tricky, after all, to regulate a commodity when political survival has always mandated scorn toward it.

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What is Beacon Hill to do? Here’s an idea: chill.

Chill means stop, look around, and see what marijuana legalization has done to Massachusetts since December 15, when it became perfectly legal for adults to grow it, swap it, and carry it.

You’ll find that the sky isn’t falling. After six months of legalization and nearly 10 years of decriminalization, what is the impact, on the public health and safety, of marijuana’s entry into the economic and cultural mainstream? Sure, there have been a few mishaps with novice users, but what serious harm, exactly, has legalization caused?

Commerce in cannabis and cannabis products is exploding. It’s easy, these days, to buy flowers or get your hands on marijuana-infused edibles. They even come in clean, machine-wrapped packages bearing a label disclosing the contents, dosage, and a warning about keeping it out of the hands of children. Except for the lack of a tax stamp, illegal marijuana products look almost legal.

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Even the reaction of many in law enforcement has changed. A Westfield Police lieutenant summed it up succinctly at a recent meeting about the law: “We don’t care about pot anymore,” expressing what appears to be the prevailing — and enlightened — view among police these days.

Ask people to tell you their personal stories about the role marijuana has played in their lives. Now that it doesn’t get them in trouble, more people are opening up. If you listen closely, you might even learn one of marijuana’s best-kept secrets, namely, its utter benignity relative to other widely-used substances aimed at changing the way you feel, like alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

Doesn’t it follow that the only reason to regulate the industry in the first place, besides reducing prohibition-related violence and providing the usual consumer protections, is to collect revenue?

The Legislature was wrong to thwart the will of the voters, but there’s an honorable way out. Allow the voter-enacted law to be implemented, tweaking it only to make up for the lost time. Let the bureaucrats do their jobs. Let people know where to file applications.

Let’s catch up to Nevada.

Dick Evans, a Northampton lawyer, chaired the Yes on 4 campaign.