Legal marijuana debate heated at GCC

  • District Attorney David Sullivan makes a point during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Will Luzier, far left, makes a point during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College. Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Buz Eisenberg tries to keep the proceedings civil during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Attorney Dick Evans makes a point during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Chris Colliins moderates the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Patti Scutari and Francesco “Apollo” Compagnone of Wendell, the couple who had their medical marijuana patch uprooted by State Police, listen during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Richard Smith of Ashfield, above, attended the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. RECORDER STAFF PAUL FRANZ

  • The Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College Thursday evening. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

For the Gazette
Published: 10/6/2016 11:26:05 PM

GREENFIELD — Legalizing marijuana use in Massachusetts was the topic of an often heated panel debate Thursday as more than 100 people filled the Greenfield Community College dining commons.

Panelists and audience members argued about the addictive nature of marijuana, its effects particularly on teenagers, the tax benefits of legalization and the results of commercializing distribution.

The forum was intended to help area voters make an informed decision about the ballot Question 4, which, if passed, would allow the use, cultivation, possession and distribution of recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old.

“The goal is to cover as many angles and as many perspectives on the issue as possible,” said Moderator Chris Collins.

Medical marijuana has been legal since a 2012 ballot vote, though federal and state police recently confiscated marijuana plants from Wendell, Granby and Amherst. In Amherst, a single marijuana plant was taken from an 81-year-old woman who said she was using the plant to ease arthritis and other ailments.

The panel featured Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan and regional Opioid Task Force Director Paul McNeil, who oppose the Nov. 8 ballot question, and attorney Richard Evans and Will Luzier, the campaign manager for Yes on 4, who advocate for a yes vote on the question.

Sullivan argued that throughout the United States “all medical societies have opposed legalization.” He explained that the market for marijuana is primarily people ages 12 to 25, a span during which the human brain is still developing.

“Marijuana is really not a good thing when people’s brains are still developing,” he said.

Sullivan also expressed his concerns about dangerous levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, in pot today. Sullivan said the THC content used to be as low as 1 or 2 percent, but is now as much as 90 percent.

He also cited a 48 percent increase in accidental deaths resulting from marijuana use in states where marijuana has been legalized, and Department of Public Health statistics suggesting that 55 percent of hospital admissions for young people ages 12 to 15 are for cannabis use disorder.

“It’s really a decision that requires people to think about the health costs, the social costs and where we want to go,” Sullivan said.

“It really is the lack of a limit on the potency that is concerning,” McNeil said.

On the flip side of the argument, Luzier said regulating marijuana would, in fact, make using it safer.

“There won’t be any pesticides, there won’t be any heavy metals,” Luzier said. “You’ll know what you’re getting.”

“Commercialization means that people will be asked for ID,” Evans said, going on to mention the dangers of buying marijuana on the black market. “Would you rather have the market controlled by criminals or by regulators?”

In response, Sullivan and McNeil claimed that the black market has increased in Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal, because dealers can purchase as much as they want and sell it more cheaply.

“I have no idea why that wouldn’t happen here,” McNeil said.

Sullivan and McNeil also said that greater access has increased use in the states where marijuana is legal, as Washington and Colorado have the two highest usage rates in the country. Sullivan expressed his concerns for teenagers.

“It’s going to derail so many teenagers,” Sullivan said. “I would say it’s in the millions of dollars to help these teens with recovery.”

The panelists debated whether the resulting tax revenue would outweigh the costs of treating addicts. McNeil said in the case of alcohol and tobacco addiction, treatment costs outweigh the revenue brought in from sales.

In Colorado, $144 million was gained in taxes in 2015, and Luzier said it costs only $25 million to regulate the industry.

“It’s important to remember the revenue is not the only reason we’re advocating for this,” Luzier said. “We’re trying to get rid of the black market (and) we’re trying to make marijuana safer.”

Evans also argued that law enforcement measures will never eradicate marijuana use.

“We’re tyring to help people grow up and know the difference between use and abuse,” Evans said of legalization.

Should marijuana use be legalized following the Nov. 8 vote, towns and cities could still pass laws prohibiting, limiting or regulating its use, and the state law would not supersede federal laws. A 3.75 percent state tax would be applied to sales, in addition to the current sales tax and the possibility of a 2 percent local tax. Business owners could still require drug tests and laws concerning operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs would not change.

Thursday’s forum was sponsored by The Recorder, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, other local media and Greenfield Community College.




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