Despite a united front of opposition from leading Beacon Hill politicians and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts are striking back at critics with a new advertisement featuring a former Boston police lieutenant who is now a criminology professor.
On Monday, the advocacy group, “Yes on 4,” is scheduled to debut a television advertisement that will run on networks and cable stations in the Boston market. The $650,000 ad is the first television buy for either side of Question 4, one of the more contentious statewide referendums that voters will decide the fate of on Nov. 8.
In the 30-second advertisement, supporters of legalized marijuana tapped Thomas Nolan, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Merrimack College, to state his case for on open — but regulated — marijuana market.
Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Yes on 4 group, said Nolan was chosen because he “brings wisdom and clarity into the reasons why a regulated system is better than the system we have today.”
In the spot, Nolan says his expertise in law enforcement has led him to support Question 4.
“Yes on 4 is a smart choice to protect families,” Nolan says to the camera. “Question 4 requires strict product labeling and childproof packaging and bans advertising directed at kids. And Question 4 bans consuming marijuana in public. It will tax and regulate marijuana for adults 21 and over, bringing millions in revenue for schools or law enforcement.”
The advertisement, which was partly paid for by television personality and marijuana reform advocate Rick Steves , seems to signal the start of the campaign season’s final stretch and heightens the intensity of the debate surrounding marijuana legalization in the Commonwealth.
With fewer than 40 days until Election Day, critics of Question 4, which include Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and a host of state senators and representatives as well as some Boston city councilors, have attempted to cast marijuana as a gateway drug and its legalization as reckless.
“You’ll hear the other side say that marijuana is not a gateway drug,” Walsh, a self-described recovering alcoholic, said at a joint news conference with Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo in July. “If you know anyone in the recovery community, talk to them. . . . You’ll hear that most of them, many of them started with marijuana.”
Experts have said the evidence on Walsh’s claim is mixed; however, several public safety groups have already come out against Question 4, including Massachusetts Hospital Association, Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, and all of the state’s district attorneys.
Nick Bayer, the campaign manager for a “No on 4” group called Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, dismissed the new advertisement as a “shameless attempt to deceive voters.”
Specifically, Bayer took issue with Nolan’s claim that under Question 4, children would be shielded from direct advertisement.
“Question 4 authorizes the sale of high-potency pot edibles like candies and gummies that are inherently attractive to kids, and allows for advertising pot on TV, billboards, and the Internet where it’s sure to be seen by our teens,” Bayer said. “Question 4 would mean more drugged driving problems and less control for homeowners and communities.”
Such is the mudslinging that both sides can expect during the campaign’s remaining months, especially because Question 4 figures to be decided by a thin margin. Last month, in a poll conducted by WBUR, researchers found 50 percent of state voters supported legalizing recreational marijuana, while 45 percent of potential voters opposed it.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a dead heat,” Borghesani of Yes on 4 said. “And we think it’s going [to] be a dead heat up until Election Day.”
In an interview, Borghesani touted a recent endorsement from US Congressman Seth Moulton. And Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren has said loosening marijuana regulations could be “an opportunity to study the drug better.”
Baker is leading the charge on the opposing side.
“Evidence has shown that the legalization of marijuana is not safe, particularly for children, and poses serious implications for our health and public safety resources across the Commonwealth,” Baker said in a statement.
But on the issue of legalizing marijuana — a drug that is familiar to many — Borghesani said high-profile political endorsements might not hold significant weight.
“The offices that oppose this now, they are the same people that opposed decriminalization in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012,” he said. “The people didn’t take their cue from the top elected officials in those years, and we’re confident they won’t do it this year.”
Astead W. Herndon can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.