Ballot Question Four is long overdue

By Anthony Ferranti


Cannabis, also known as pot, grass, reefer, dope, or marijuana. Ever heard of it? Surely you have come across it at some point in your life; you may have even taken a toke or two yourself. Cannabis is an incredibly prevalent drug in America. Even when taking into consideration its legality in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, and the District of Colombia, it is no surprise that cannabis is still the most commonly used illicit drug in America. Along with Maine, Arizona, California and Nevada, Massachusetts has a ballot question for this fall’s election that proposes the legalization of recreational cannabis.

The plan would allow adults 21 years and older to legally purchase under an ounce of marijuana. The main arguments against this proposition emphasize the health risks of cannabis and the danger the drug poses to children and teens. Also, many citizens dread an increase in DUIs and automobile accidents caused by drivers that are under the influence of marijuana. As a proponent of legalization of recreational cannabis, I am mostly concerned about how law enforcement would control drivers that were under the influence. In my experience, driving while high is considered far more socially acceptable than driving while drunk, so Massachusetts would need to spend significant funds on advertising against driving high.

However, if cannabis is legalized, there will be an excise tax of 3.75% and local communities can impose a tax of up to 2%. This tax is estimated to generate $100 million for state and local governments. This money could be used to campaign against driving while high and what is leftover can be used to fund education and much more. In addition to this extra state spending money, legalizing cannabis would allow for law enforcement to focus on more violent crimes.

Even though African-American and white populations smoke cannabis at similar rates, Blacks are much more likely to be arrested for possession. After decriminalization of the drug in Massachusetts, in 2014 Blacks were 3.3 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites. This statistic contributes to the all too relevant issue of police racial bias that leads to the unjust prosecution and even deaths of innocent African-Americans. Legalizing cannabis for recreation use would certainly help to eliminate some of this racial bias. On top of that, law enforcement will no longer waste valuable time policing virtually harmless crimes having to do with marijuana.

Compared to all other illicit drugs, cannabis is the safest. Alcohol kills around 40,000 people a year in the United States alone, and cigarettes appallingly kill over 480,000 Americans per year including 42,000 deaths caused by second-hand smoke, and yet smoking marijuana is not as socially acceptable as drinking. No one has ever overdosed from cannabis consumption because it is impossible to do so, so why is cannabis illegal if it is so much safer than alcohol and cigarettes?

The reason dates back to a man named Harry Anslinger. In 1929, Anslinger became the chair of the Department of Prohibition in Washington, D.C. After alcohol prohibition proved to be a disaster at the end of the 1920s, Anslinger found himself with little work to do in a major government department. To preserve his job, Anslinger began campaigning to outlaw cannabis, claiming that it caused people to commit violent crimes and become inevitably insane. This incredibly false campaign was persuasive enough to make citizens fear cannabis, ultimately making it illegal in all fifty states, but Americans have been advocating for its legality since the 1930s.

It is true that cannabis negatively impacts mental health more than physical health. Legalizing it will allow us to more easily conduct research and understand its effect on mental health, which is a stigma of its own in the United States.

Even those who stress the harmful side of cannabis use will benefit from legalization because it will allow for stricter control of the drug. If cannabis becomes legalized, the market will be heavily regulated which implies more safety all around. Regulation will make it much harder for those under the age of 21 to obtain the drug. Cannabis may cause significant damage to the developing teenage brain, so its legality will discourage teenage abuse of the drug. Furthermore, the bulk of cannabis will no longer be distributed by dangerous drug dealers; legal dispensaries will make drug distribution far safer throughout communities.

For Massachusetts citizens, question four marks significant progress in destigmatizing a DEA Schedule I drug that, for many reasons, should never have been outlawed in the first place. Despite all claims, legalization means nothing more than regulation, which directly implies safety. It is embarrassing that society has taken so long to regulate cannabis considering how common and socially acceptable it has become.

If not in this election, cannabis will inevitably become legal. For thousands of years, cannabis has been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes all over the world. When compared to other drugs, cannabis clearly belongs in its own category. Now is the time to make it legal so we can peacefully study it, enjoy it, make it safer and overall more beneficial for ourselves and communities all over Massachusetts.

Anthony Ferranti is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]