Marijuana is a gateway — to a flawed criminal justice system

I am deeply concerned about both Joan Vennochi’s column (“Like Bill Clinton, I didn’t inhale,” July 12) and the political coalition that opposes the marijuana legalization initiative (“Mass. leaders join against marijuana legislation”). While decriminalization in Massachusetts has been a worthwhile and successful step in reducing the number of arrests for marijuana possession, it has not gone far enough.

I have worked with the Committee for Public Counsel Services for many years, and found that police officers routinely charge people not only with possession, but with intent to distribute marijuana, which almost automatically adds in the school zone provision. Virtually everywhere in any urban area is within 1,000 feet of what is defined as a school zone. This brings felony conviction, mandatory minimum sentences, and the potential for total unemployability in the future, not to mention the harm that comes from prison time. It does so with no evidence that it accomplishes any positive purpose in the vast majority of those incarcerated, nor for society.

Most of those who use marijuana never use other, harder drugs, and the vast majority of marijuana users do not use it problematically. Most problematic use, as with alcohol, occurs in those with a history of underlying psychological and psychiatric issues, particularly early-life recurrent trauma. Vennochi writes that she doesn’t want to “add [marijuana] to the mix.” It has already been added.


There is no problem for anyone in the Commonwealth who wishes to obtain marijuana to find it. The problem is its illegality and the consequences of that, which far outweigh any harms that come of the drug.

Dr. Alan Wartenberg, Attleboro

The writer was formerly the medical director of Faulkner Hospital’s addiction recovery program.