For pro-marijuana group, grass would be greener on other side of the law

  • The Sunoco station at 155 Main St. in Greenfield has been proposed as the future site of a medical marijuana dispensary. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/TOM RELIHAN

  • The logo is shown on the front of jars of marijuana buds marketed by rapper Snoop Dogg in one of the LivWell marijuana chain's outlets south of downtown Denver. As legal marijuana becomes a further-entrenched fact of life in Colorado, small-town leaders are struggling to sort out the same issues that Denver and other cities have tangled with, from zoning for grows and dispensaries to allowing cannabis clubs. AP FILE PHOTO

  • The patient area at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • (AP Photo/Marina Riker)

  • State police seized Patricia Scutari and Francesco Compagnone's medical marijuana plants in early September. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan

  • Borghesani

For the Gazette
Published: 10/28/2016 10:37:49 PM

Would the grass really be greener if Massachusetts legalizes recreational marijuana?

Advocates of Question 4 in the Nov. 8 election think so.

YES on 4, the official Boston-based pro-legalization campaign, argues legalizing and regulating marijuana in a fashion similar to how alcohol is regulated would reduce drug crime by undercutting the current black markets, offer a safer product for consumers, create jobs, and raise substantial tax revenues for the state.

Right now, said Jim Borghesani, the group’s communications director, Massachusetts residents who want to buy marijuana for personal use — about 885,000 people in 2015, according to a Senate report from that year — are forced to put themselves in potentially risky situations involving criminal drug dealers.

Those dealers, he said, also peddle more dangerous substances like painkillers and heroin, the drugs at the heart of an ongoing regional addiction crisis. Recently, he said, police discovered a batch of marijuana being sold in Brockton that had been laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has been linked to well over half of the fatal opioid-related overdoses in the last year.

“This law would send those regular users into safe, regulated businesses where they can buy tested product that’s labeled and packaged in such a way that they know exactly what they’re buying,” Borghesani said. “Right now, we’re sending them into the embrace of criminals who sell other deadly drugs. It’s untested product, and there’s nothing safe about that.”

“Every marijuana purchase except for medical is a criminal transaction that takes place in potentially dangerous environment,” Borghesani said.

If marijuana were legal, he said, it would free up law enforcement to deal with other crime.

That new, regulated marketplace would be overseen by a Cannabis Control Commission, similar to the existing Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, that would have the power to ensure the safety of the products, require it to be tracked from seed to sale, and put other restrictions in place.

What about the kids?

Many opponents of legalization warn it will become easier for underage people to get their hands on pot, and boost the risk that a child could mistakenly ingest edible marijuana products like chocolate bars and cookies that represent the fastest-growing sector of Colorado’s fledgling industry.

But proponents say neither of those things are likely to happen. Borghesani said the state’s 2012 medical marijuana regulations outlaw the sale of marijuana-infused products that look like commercially available food products.

“The CCC will start there, and get more stringent. You won’t be seeing packaging that resembles any commercial candy,” Borghesani said.

He said marijuana edibles will likely be sold in bland packaging with graphic labels indicating what’s inside. There are also ways to make the containers tamper- and child-proof, and he expects that technology will only improve over time.

“It will be the most stringent edible control system in the nation,” he predicted.

Borghesani disputed the idea that making marijuana legally obtainable from a store would encourage use among young people or make it easier for them to get.

“We think there will be a decrease. We’ve talked to students who told us its easier for them to purchase marijuana than alcohol, because it isn’t regulated. Drug dealers don’t check IDs.”

He noted studies out of Colorado’s health department show marijuana use remaining flat among youth, despite legalization there. The state still has the highest use rate in the country.

Cash crop?

Borghesani said legalizing marijuana would also have ripple effects throughout the state’s economy. Early estimates, he said, see the state adding up to $100 million to its coffers each year.

Colorado, the first state to begin selling legal marijuana, raised more than $80 million in marijuana taxes during 2015, according to the state’s records.

Borghesani said marijuana would be taxed at 10 percent, with an option for a local tax up to 2 percent, and those revenues would first be used to administer, regulate and enforce the new law, then go to the state government’s General Fund.

“That could be used to build opioid beds, fund drug awareness programs mostly in school, support law enforcement, or anything the Legislature deems it to be used for,” he said.

Currently, taxpayers are footing the bill for police operations, prosecution and enforcement of the illegal markets, he said.

The new industry would create “thousands” of new jobs, both in positions directly related to the industry and contracted work, like heating, air conditioning, ventilation, illumination, and irrigation, proponents assert.


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