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The Argument

Is it time for Massachusetts to legalize marijuana?

Is it time for Massachusetts to legalize marijuana?

Steven S. Epstein of Georgetown, founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.
Steven S. Epstein of Georgetown, founder of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition.Handout

YES

Steven S. Epstein

a Georgetown attorney who is a member of Bay State Repeal, organized to support a legalization initiative in 2016.

A solid majority of voters in 14 House Districts across the state instructed their state representatives to legalize marijuana for persons over 21 last November. The 1st, 4th, 7th, and 8th Essex districts and a portion of Chelmsford and Woburn (in the 14th and 15th Middlesex districts) are in the Globe North’s readership area.

Some undoubtedly voted yes because they want to use, grow, buy, and sell marijuana without fear of prosecution.

Other reasons for a “yes” vote include recognition that enforcement is futile, reaching no more than a small fraction of users, sellers, and producers. Alcohol and tobacco are legal, so why should adults suffer loss of opportunity and disruption of their lives, if not jail time, over marijuana?

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Taxes on a legal market will help pay for public programs. The unregulated black market does not limit sales to persons over the age of 21. The plant that produces marijuana produces nutritious seeds and strong fiber, and modern scientific research indicates the stalk of the plant could compete as an industrial feedstock for carbon-based products.

Each reason establishes that the principles of the Declaration of Rights and Constitution of Massachusetts require liberating its use for adults.

Those opposed will thunderously echo the same “reefer madness” claims the sky will fall on our young they they made prior to voters approving decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less in 2008 and for medical use in 2012. In essence, the data here and in the first states to legalize prove the sky did not fall. Claims any use is detrimental to the developing brain — if true — provide another reason why it should be sold in stores where they check identification.

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Bay State Repeal agrees with the Globe editorial “Pay-to-play allegations hold lessons for pot advocates” (Nov. 20) that legalization “shouldn’t spawn another regulatory monster in the process” or “also avoid creating another morass that limits consumer choices, enriches special interests, and invites misconduct.” The editorial also said “Anyone should be able to grow or sell legalized marijuana, subject to whatever taxes and age requirements the state enacts.”

Legalization provides opportunity for domestic farms and workers. For those under 21, the 2008 decriminalization law with its requirement that those under 18 take a drug abuse education class will remain. As for driving impaired, that law will remain in force, at least until fully automated vehicles replace the fleet.​

Elaine L. Webb, vice president, Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse.
Elaine L. Webb, vice president, Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse.Handout

NO

Elaine L. Webb

Vice President, Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse

It is not time for Massachusetts to legalize marijuana. It is time for our communities to focus on substance abuse prevention, addiction, and recovery. The Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse is on a mission to promote a safe, healthy, and vibrant community. Coalitions across the North Shore share this goal.

RCASA has focused on substance abuse through data collection and evaluation; worked with clinicians; reaching out to the youth and adults in the community; and creating education and prevention resources. A result of this body of experience, the coalition was opposed to the medical marijuana ballot question and stands opposed to legalization of marijuana.

It will not be enough to simply share the sobering and shocking data on marijuana abuse and substantial health impacts for youth and adults. Every one of us is impacted by substance abuse in some manner, and legalization of marijuana will only worsen all of the direct and indirect negative impacts of this drug. The data must be personalized and real.

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Clinicians who work daily in recovery see the ravaging effects of addiction on the addicts and their families. Alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs are addictive and are a prevalent gateway. Buying and using marijuana puts you in the risk path of other more harmful and addictive drugs. According to the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 41 percent of high school students and 8 percent of middle school students reported using marijuana.

Educators and parents see the daily hurdles to learning that students and teachers face. Marijuana usage in adolescence may negatively impact higher order thinking and memory. Research indicates the brain undergoes radical changes through the early 20s. Combine this with a THC content in marijuana that has increased significantly in the past 15 years, and you have youth that are minimizing their opportunities and maximizing their risk of addiction.

Law enforcement collects and reports data, but have a conversation with your school resource officer or police chief and you will feel the pain of the data. Reach out to your local substance abuse prevention coalition and become part of the prevention and recovery solution.

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Globe correspondent Brenda Buote solicited opinions for this exchange. She can be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.