Pros And Cons Of Recreational Marijuana Light Up Debate

Legally grown marijuana in Colorado. (Photo by Brett Levin/Flickr)
Written by Michael Sol Warren

By: Michael Sol Warren
Statehouse Correspondant, The Standard Times

BOSTON — Issues ranging from the proposed tax rate on legal marijuana to visions of a burgeoning black market for homegrown pot were raised Tuesday during a public forum on Question 4, the ballot issue that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts.

For state Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, who represented the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, one of the big issues of the ballot question was the low tax rate proposed for pot.

 If legalized, marijuana sales would include a 10 percent tax, with cities and towns having the option to impose an additional 2 percent tax. This rate lower than the 25 percent tax in Colorado and the 44 percent tax in Washington state.

“This will not generate any revenue to help our schools or fix the T or anything else,” Lewis said. “What this is really about is commercializing big marijuana in Massachusetts.”

But Jim Borghesani, the communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign pointed out that Colorado is considering cutting its tax rate. He said that the proposed tax rate in Massachusetts would be sufficient to fund the regulations and put money into the state’s coffers.

The debate at the UMass Boston, is part of a series of discussions on the four ballot questions Massachusetts voters will decide next month. Meghna Chakrabarti, the host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, and Boston Globe Political Reporter Joshua Miller moderated the session.

Question 4 asks voters to approve a bill that would allow for legal marijuana and regulate its possession, cultivation and sale. The proposed regulations are modeled after the state’s regulation of alcohol.

The discussion was split into two segments, focusing on the economic implications of legalization and the possible effects on public health.

But the two debaters brought up other issues.

 Lewis said that legalization was unnecessary because virtually no one is arrested for pot possession in the state following the decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot and the creation of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Borghesani said that the notion of legalization increasing public safety costs due to increased ambulance rides and emergency room visits was alarmist rhetoric that did not reflect the reality of legalization in Colorado and Washington.

They were asked about the proposal’s provision that would allow up to 12 plants to be grown in each household as long as they are properly secured and out of view. Moderators asked if homegrown marijuana could fuel the existing black market.

Borghesani said that this would not happen, and that the provision mirrored laws allowing Massachusetts residents to brew their own beer.

“I think it’s an insult to the residents of Massachusetts,” Borghesani said of the idea that people would use the option to break the law by selling homegrown marijuana in states where the drug remains illegal.

When the questions shifted from economics to public health, moderators noted that the Massachusetts Medical Society and 10 other state physicians groups had come out against legalization.

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