Marijuana legalization proposition to come on Election Day

By Matthew M. Robare

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On Election Day, in addition to voting for officials and on ballot initiatives, 5.625 percent of Massachusetts voters will be asked if their representative should support the legalization of marijuana. Amherst is one of the towns where that question will be asked.           

“It’s not a ballot initiative,” said Adam Freed, secretary of the Cannabis Reform Coalition. “The initiative was what we had with the decriminalization. This will be a public policy question polling areas that were targeted in the hopes that there would be success.

“So if there’s a large amount of support for marijuana legalization or medicalization, then we can hope for some financial backing in a similar sense to what’s happening in California – there are some individuals who will donate funds to a Massachusetts campaign to legalize weed and so our goal is 2012,” Freed added.           

The question proposes if marijuana be made similar to alcohol. “Taxed and regulated like alcohol,” Freed said. “People that consumed it would have to be 21, it would have to be purchased in particular stores and areas that are designated for the sale of marijuana.”           

Freed said that it is important for marijuana to be in a similar situation to alcohol, both from the perspective of individual rights and from the standpoint of the government getting revenue from taxation instead of spending funds on enforcement and punishment. He said that people should not be going to jail over marijuana consumption and possession.           

“The point of alcohol legalization was that individuals should have the choice of whether or not they want to use or consume alcohol and we understand that while this is a potentially deadly substance, people still have the right to make that choice,” Freed said.

“So as a country, as a government, we tax it and we make a great deal of money off it. On the other hand, with marijuana, which in my opinion and many professionals’ opinions, not nearly as toxic as a substance like alcohol, we’d like to have the same sort of system going,” he continued.           

Patrick Archbald, University of Massachusetts Police Department Deputy Chief of Administration, agreed that marijuana legalization would free up police manpower and funding for dealing with other crimes. “I’m going to defer to the legislature,” he said. “We enforce the laws they create.”

Freed said that if the public policy question is answered in the affirmative, the next step is to push for legalization in 2012, to register voters, to get voters to go to the polls and informing people about why the CRC believes marijuana should be legalized.

“It’s really important to paint a full perspective for voters,” he said. “Some voters might just say ‘No’ based on certain fundamental reasoning that they have and other voters might be swayed in the other direction and our hope is to sway voters,” said Freed.

He continued, “We know that a lot of students, a lot of individuals in the area, will vote ‘Yes’ for legalization, but there are a lot of people – and this is our target audience – who are going to say ‘No’ just out of a force of habit and we’d like to convince them to say ‘Yes,’ and induce them to have marijuana legalized, to have no more criminal marijuana users or offenders and to have better access outside of the black market for obtaining marijuana in safer means.”

Many of the stereotypes associated with those who use, sell and grow marijuana have proved to be obstacles to the legalization campaign. While the reputable information today is more substantial than many years ago, when films like “Reefer Madness” were presented as being based upon true stories about marijuana users, showing people becoming violent and insane based on usage of the drug, Freed said that some misinformation is still spreading.

“The general trend of the last decade or two has been that individuals who have tried marijuana know that the propaganda against it isn’t true and they’re less likely to believe that propaganda,” Freed said. “DARE was a wildly unsuccessful program.” 

The public policy question on marijuana legalization is on the ballot in legislative districts in Middlesex, Dukes, Barnstable, Hampshire, Essex and Franklin counties. A similar question, regarding legalization of marijuana for medical use, will be on the ballot in Hampden, Worcester, Plymouth, Suffolk, Bristol and Norfolk legislative districts.

Matthew Robare can be reached at [email protected]