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YVONNE ABRAHAM

Laughable arguments against legalizing marijuana

By globe columnist 

That new ad trying to scare voters into opposing Question 4 is so over the top, so replete with retro alarmism, it’s kind of adorable.

In it, opponents of the initiative to legalize pot in Massachusetts conjure a gray, dystopian world with a pot shop on every corner (“Weed world!” “Cannabis Hut!”). In a display window, scrumptious-looking, pink pot candies entice a little girl on her way to the toy store next door, mortifying her mother.

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Voting yes on Question 4 will allow “thousands” of marijuana stores, the ad warns, “in neighborhoods like yours.” A siren screams by and the voice-over warns of more traffic deaths. A man walks by in a cloud of pot smoke. Reefer and its zombie devotees are everywhere.

But the worst is yet to come: A kid who looks like a teenager exits the cannabis store chewing an edible and toting a big bag with a bong sticking out.

“Mom?”

Kevin?”

My God, it’s her own son!

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It sure is a scary place. But also not a real one. There won’t be a pot shop on every corner if the question passes. The industry will be heavily regulated, with a maximum of 75 stores opening in 2018: It’s hard to see us making it up to thousands of stores quickly, or ever. Four years after they were authorized, we still have only eight medical marijuana dispensaries here.

A cannabis control commission could keep tight reins on recreational pot vendors. Municipal leaders could limit pot shops, or voters could ban them from communities altogether. There would be strict controls on displays, signage, and marketing — no window displays of yummy-looking edibles, in other words.

Oh, and by the way, it would still be illegal to walk around in a giant pot cloud, since using it in public would remain against the law. And kids like Kevin — who looks like he’s 15 — couldn’t saunter out of a shop toting armfuls of booty. Using and buying marijuana would still be illegal for anyone under 21. Kevin would be carded — something that probably isn’t happening with his current supplier.

But we don’t have to speculate. Colorado has already done this. Governor John Hickenlooper opposed legalization four years ago, calling it “reckless,” but he’s since changed his tune. Today, he wouldn’t reverse the vote if he could, he has said. There are currently 454 pot stores in that state and 528 medical marijuana dispensaries. None have display windows, says Andrew Freedman, who oversees the industry for the state. Regulations on edibles make sure dosages are safer, are in child-resistant, resealable packaging, and are clearly imprinted with a symbol identifying them. Candies that might entice kids are prohibited.

Legalization advocates and their opponents argue over traffic fatalities. Opponents say crashes caused by marijuana are up in pot-friendly states. Supporters say studies are limited and inconclusive. In Colorado, Freedman says road fatalities remain at historic lows. Though the state has only three years of data since legalization, “when you look at the total picture, it doesn’t appear we are any less safe than we were before,” he said.

Nor has legalization pushed more people, including the young, into the clutches of demon weed. “The same people who were using [it] before seem to be using it in the legal system,” he said.

That system brings the pot trade, which already thrives, let’s recall, out of the dangerous, criminal shadows and into the open. It generates tax revenue. It imposes standards that make pot safer.

I think those benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and I’m hardly alone. A MassINC/WBUR poll released Wednesday found 55 percent of respondents support the question, and 40 percent are opposed.

I get concerns that the impact of legalized pot will be heaviest on poorer neighborhoods, and the fear of edibles, and of increasing drug use in general.

But when opponents put up an ad this campy, this alarmist, it shuts down the possibility of reasonable discussion. It just makes them look ridiculous.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonneabraham@globe.com.