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Have cities and towns moved too quickly to ban recreational marijuana?


Jim Borghesani

Spokesman for 2016 campaign to legalize marijuana; Duxbury resident

Jim Borghesanihandout

When Massachusetts voters legalized cannabis in 2016 they recognized that the failed, hypocritical policy of prohibition posed intolerable harms to public health, community safety, and social justice. They demanded a new approach of safe, regulated sales through licensed businesses that check IDs and pay taxes.

Sadly, many communities have opted to keep criminals in charge of cannabis commerce. This is what bans do. Bans don’t keep cannabis out of communities. Bans don’t stop consumers from buying their preferred substance. They simply guarantee continued market control by illegal dealers selling untested products in unsafe settings.


This approach is harmful to public health and public safety. A recent state study found that 21 percent, or more than one in five Massachusetts residents, reported using marijuana within the preceding 30 days. Local bans block those residents from the same consumer safety protections enjoyed by buyers of alcohol, prescription pharmaceuticals, or any other regulated product on the market.

Ban supporters use standard arguments. One is the harm to children. While rhetorically compelling, this argument ignores data that generally show no increase in youth marijuana use in cannabis-legal states. Since 1996, 31 states have legalized medical cannabis, and nine have legalized recreational cannabis. National youth use over that span of time has dropped.

A second argument is that cannabis shops don’t fit the “character” of a community. This pitch fails the straight-face test in any community with a package store. Unlike those establishments, cannabis stores can have no product displays, graphics, or suggestive signs, and can allow no entry to anyone under 21 — security guards will check IDs upon entrance.

Ban supporters also often complain about the increased “social costs” that supposedly accompany marijuana legalization. In fact, available data shows that the public health and safety budgets in two legal states — Colorado and Oregon — are no greater as a percentage of total state spending than they were before legalization.


It is time for cities and towns to reject stale, discredited arguments based on reefer-madness hysteria. The experience in other states provides clear proof that legal, regulated cannabis systems are far superior to keeping cartels and street dealers in control.


Amy Turncliff

Neuroscientist, public health advocate, Ashland resident

Amy Turncliffhandout

Cities and towns taking action to opt out of recreational marijuana commercialization are not moving too quickly or acting too hastily. I offer that view as a PhD-level neuroscientist, a public health advocate, and a mother of three. I also chaired the Ashland committee that sucessfully campaigned for a recreational marijuana ban in our town, but I speak for myself, not any group I belong to.

The data are clear that in places like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon where marijuana sales are legal, there are generally higher rates of marijuana use. This is straightforward prevention science: when access and availability increase, and perception of harm and perception of disapproval decrease, drug use and use-related harm go up.

In legal marijuana states, some public health and safety indicators have moved in the wrong direction, such as a rise in emergency room visits, and traffic crashes. In Colorado, crime is up.

The impacts on mental health and on cognitive and emotional development from using marijuana — particularly high potency THC products — are a major concern. There is a growing body of scientific literature showing that adolescents and young adults who are regular marijuana users are at increased risk for addiction, mental health disorders including psychosis, negative impacts on cognition and memory, and reduced academic performance.


In the early 20th century, before Big Tobacco gained a foothold, smoking rates were low and there were few cases of death from smoking-related lung cancer. By the end of the 20th Century, 100 million lives were lost to tobacco-related causes. Without strict limits on marijuana commercialization, we can expect similarly concerning, though different, health impacts across our population. This is not “fear-mongering; it’s based on public health history and the scientific literature.

Commercial marijuana in a community increases access to highly potent products that are appealing to youth. And as happens now, adults will purchase products to sell to youth.

Many citizens didn’t understand that marijuana “legalization” meant “high potency marijuana/THC product commercialization.” When this fact is clarified, more people vote to keep commercial marijuana out of their communities. This is proactive, science-informed policy, that prioritizes public health; and perhaps most importantly, prioritizes the health and safety of our young people.

This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.

As told to Globe Correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.