When it comes to marijuana legalization, what do you trust? Studies that conclude cannabis is not a harmful gateway drug — or the memory of a glassy-eyed college roommate who stopped going to class?
For me, it’s the memory.
Like Bill Clinton, I didn’t inhale. Honest. I went to college in the ’70s, so pot, as we called it then, was obviously all around me. But I had a mother who warned me that the slightest intake would turn me into a heroin addict. I didn’t develop deep skepticism toward authority until later in life, so I listened to her. When I finally tried marijuana — after college — I horrified the guy I was with by puffing out, not in. That humiliation saved me from future experimentation that could prove Mom wrong.
According to the data, legalization proponents say, there’s no connection between marijuana use and opioid addiction. But whether one leads to the other really doesn’t matter. Why increase the number of stupefied people wandering around an already perilous world? I also know alcohol is dangerous when abused, but I don’t see that as a reason to add THC to the mix.
My kind of thinking gives Governor Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh a solid chance at winning the anti-legalization argument — no matter how much money the other side pours into a ballot question that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for those over 21.
The website for the pro-legalization campaign — Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol — stresses that the initiative does not allow marijuana to be used in public, only in “an enclosed, locked space” within a residence. It also creates “a tightly controlled system of licensed marijuana retail stores” that would be regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission. If you’re already under the influence of a controlled substance, that’s reassuring. Otherwise, not so much.
The three elected politicians, who spoke out against the November ballot question at a press conference last week, begin this fight with a slight edge. According to a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, 46 percent of likely general-election voters in Massachusetts said they would oppose a ballot question calling for legalization. Forty-three percent favor it, and 11 percent were undecided. There’s also a clear age divide.
Voters age 18 to 55 support legalization. Voters age 56 and older oppose it. That covers the baby boomers, who remember the hippie culture and the recreational drug use that was a celebrated part of it. That generational experience — as major- or minor-league participant, or even as mere observer — does influence perspective.
During a 2014 gubernatorial debate, Baker, 59, answered “yes” to a question about whether he ever smoked marijuana. “I went to college in the ’70s,” he explained later. DeLeo, who is 66, said he tried marijuana “in my late 20s. . . . I was late to the game.” At 49, Walsh brings his powerful personal story as a recovering alcoholic to the debate.
All three politicians offer anecdotal evidence to tie marijuana use to the opioid problem.
“If you know anyone in the recovery community, talk to them,” said Walsh. “You’ll hear that most of them, many of them, started with marijuana.” DeLeo said the best evidence he has of the connection is not via “reports,” but through visits he makes to halfway houses. When recovering addicts are asked how they started out, he said, “90 percent of the time” they say it was marijuana. Baker also expressed concern about the danger of increased accessibility of drugs to young people.
The data may not yet predict that outcome. But common sense and memory don’t rule it out.