By Shraddha Gupta
Statehouse Correspondent, The Sun Chronicle
Although recent polls show half the state’s voters support a ballot question legalizing marijuana, area officials and state lawmakers remain firmly opposed.
Many state senators and representatives interviewed last week are opposed to Question 4, which would allow the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 and over. They claim the law would lead to high rates of addiction, pose a threat to children and hurt local communities.
“Marijuana is marketed as something different than citizens believe it to be,” said Sen. Richard Ross, R-Wrentham. “It is an increasingly addictive drug and has been created to be much more potent for recreational use.”
Ross, who was part of a Senate delegation that traveled to Colorado to see the effects of legalization, also sees potential danger to children from commercial marijuana “edibles” — cookies and candies laced with pot.
“I learned that some edibles even mimic candy — something that is dangerously appealing to children. Marijuana, in all forms, poses a threat to public health and safety,” he said.
Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, sees the movement to legalize marijuana as driven by greed.
“The question was framed by the lobbyists for the marijuana industry, and they seek to make millions and millions from this legalization,” she said.
Rep. Paul Heroux, D-Attleboro, who said he hasn’t studied the ballot question yet, said many of his colleagues oppose the question because it lacks certain safeguards that good legislation should have.
Area law enforcement officials are strongly opposed to legalization, as well.
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey offers what he says are a list of negative coming out of Colorado.
According to Morrisey:
* Colorado has seen an increase in teenage admissions for marijuana addiction treatment.
* Hospitalization due to marijuana exposure has more than doubled.
* Traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana have doubled.
* Poison control center calls for marijuana poisoning more than doubled.
Morrissey also refers to a Colorado hospital’s month-long survey he said found half of the babies born at the facility tested positive for the THC in marijuana.
He questions the promised benefits from marijuana taxes, and notes some Colorado counties have started initiatives to reverse the law within their borders.
“The tax revenue promises proved to be pie in the sky — coming in 42 percent below the projections,” he said. “The repercussions go on and on. There is no reason to believe that Massachusetts will fare better.”
Attleboro Police Chief Kyle Heagney calls the ballot question “bad social policy,” and notes that marijuana is significantly stronger now than what it was 20 years ago.
“I simply do not understand the argument of trying to prevent people from smoking filtered tobacco cigarettes, but conversely encouraging them to smoke unfiltered marijuana joints. It is illogical,” he said.
The concerns voiced by local officials were discussed this past week during a panel discussion sponsored by radio station WGBH at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.
Proponents offered another view. Madeline Martinez, owner of a cannabis café in Oregon and executive director of the pro-pot group Oregon NORML, argued prohibition of marijuana does not work.
“I believe in personal privacy and I am really saddened to see how much we have ruined peoples’ lives by sending them to prison for marijuana,” she said. “No one has ever died of a legal dose of marijuana and I believe that, as myself, I am a good citizen and all I want to do is be able to live the way I want privately.”
Dr. Kevin Hill, addiction psychiatrist and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told those attending the debate that marijuana remains widely used, with or without legalization.
“Looking at the science, in this country there are a lot of adults who use cannabis like they use alcohol. And for such people, legalization is not really an issue,” he said.
Although Hill said he generally supported legalization, he felt such a law should address the realities of legal pot.
“One thing that we haven’t really done in this state and around the country is to really think more about sensible policy,” he said. “I think people should be able to have what they want if we can limit the risk.”