MA: Ending A Juvenile Attitude Toward Marijuana

Photo Credit: David Ramos

Today, thousands of people in Massachusetts will buy and consume marijuana.

They will do the same on July 1, but with one profound difference — it will be legal.

After more than a year and a half, the state is finally moving forward, albeit slowly, with the legalization of marijuana approved by voters at the November 2016 election. The first legal pot sales can begin on July 1, and the state issued its first license this past week to a facility in Milford, a short drive up Interstate 495 from the Attleboro area.

It will be a landmark day, one we believe will lead toward a better society.

For decades now, America’s attitude toward marijuana has been decidedly juvenile.

In 1936, the propaganda film “Reefer Madness” attempted to show what would happen to high school students lured by pushers to smoke a little weed. The suicide, hallucinations and descent into madness that result made for sharp satire when the film was rediscovered by cannabis advocates in the 1970s.

Speaking of the ’70s, the comedy duo of Cheech and Chong in films such as “Up in Smoke” portrayed marijuana users as lazy, slow and dim witted, a stereotype that lingers today.

America’s attempts to rein in the marijuana trade have been equally juvenile, equating marijuana and its users and dealers on nearly the same levels as far more dangerous and addictive drugs such as heroin.

America’s attitude toward marijuana has evolved in recent years. We believe legalization in Massachusetts will lead to a better society for five reasons:

1) The black market will be dismantled. No longer will it be necessary to do business with a dealer with possible organized crime ties to purchase some pot.

Those who choose to use won’t even have to seek out a friend of a friend of a friend — who has organized crime ties.

There will be stores where legitimate, licensed business owners, working under restrictions set by the state and local governments, will sell you what you want, just as they do now at a liquor store.

2) Crime will decrease. Drug dealers, sadly, often resort to violence to protect their territory or to resolve a debt. That’s certainly been the case in Attleboro where two of the last three murders have involved marijuana disputes. Police will be able to focus their resources on more serious and dangerous crimes.

3) Marijuana use will be safer. As the recent fentanyl-laced-heroin problem brought to light, there is really no way for end users to know exactly what they are getting when they purchase drugs off the street. Legalizing marijuana, on the other hand, immediately creates a set of standards for quality and safety control. Users will be able to buy cannabis that is high or low in potency, that increases focus or helps them relax, that can be smoked, vaporized or eaten — and know that they are getting what they want, not what some criminal is peddling.

4) Tax revenue will increase. In Massachusetts, a Senate committee estimated that the marijuana industry will bring up to $60 million in additional taxes to the commonwealth. That’s more money for education, public safety and road repairs — at least in theory. We have seen past promises go, pardon the pun, up in smoke. Still, we much prefer money go to state coffers than to drugs dealers and organized crime.

5) Jobs — legal ones — will increase. In Attleboro alone, five marijuana facilities are proposed, more than in any other Bristol County community except Fall River. An economic opportunity has opened here in Massachusetts, and we are interested to see it benefit workers.

There are concerns, of course. Our biggest worry is that there is not yet a test for marijuana-impaired drivers, like the Breathalyzer provides for alcohol. Given the technological advances of recent years, we would be surprised if that test is far away.

We also believe more medical studies are needed to determine how addictive marijuana is, whether it harms mental health as opponents claim and its effects on lungs, both second hand and for the user.

We don’t believe, however, these are showstoppers. It’s time for a new era to begin. It’s time we became adults about marijuana.