Point-Counterpoint: Legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts

‘Point-Counterpoint’ juxtaposes two opposing perspectives on polarizing issues and debates. The following responses, written by the Daily’s Opinion section, address two sides of the debate on marijuana legalization in the state of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or ballot Question 4, would legalize marijuana for recreational use and create a regulatory system for taxation and commerce. Question 4 will appear on the Massachusetts ballot in November. 

The case for legalization:

This November, Massachusetts will join four other states in voting for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Despite the opposition of Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, this policy change could bring significant benefits to the state, including economic improvement and a reduction in racial disparity within the criminal justice system.

Recent polls indicate that 50 percent of Massachusetts voters are in favor of legalization, while 45 percent are not in favor and 5 percent are undecided. One of the primary reasons legalization has so much support is due to the potential for significant economic benefits. For comparison, one may look to the state of Colorado, which, since the legalization of marijuana in 2012, has generated significant amounts of tax revenue from the industry. In the last fiscal year alone, the state generated about $70 million, surpassing alcohol tax revenue by nearly $30 million. In addition to tax revenue, the legalization of marijuana could also introduce a surge of highly profitable businesses, creating thousands of new jobs for Massachusetts residents.

Advocates of marijuana legalization also cite a possible decrease in racial disparity. Despite fairly equal rates of usage among black and white individuals, blacks are almost four times as likely to get arrested for possession of marijuana in the United States, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Marijuana legalization could significantly decrease these disparities, and thus “remove a significant barrier to racial equality,” a claim supported by the ACLU in a report published this month. Carol Rose, the Executive Director of ACLU Massachusetts also supported this claim, stating that “legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color.”

Furthermore, the legalization of marijuana would lead to a more effective and efficient criminal justice system. With less time and money spent on arrests for marijuana possession and usage, law enforcement in Massachusetts could focus their resources and efforts on the prosecution of larger crimes, such as murder and rape.

If passed, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative would highly regulate the recreational marijuana business, decreasing black market crime, generating economic profit for the state and potentially reducing racial disparity. For these reasons, Massachusetts should vote yes on Question 4 this November.

The case against legalization: 

This November, five states, including Massachusetts, will vote to legalize recreational marijuana. While a multitude of Massachusetts voters are strongly in favor of legalization, there are several potential issues that voters must consider.

First, the legalization of marijuana is particularly concerning when it comes to young people. Many fear that the marijuana industry will follow in the footsteps of the tobacco industry, releasing advertisement that appeals primarily to children and young adults. While the current ballot initiative does address this concern, it does so in a vague manner, calling only for “reasonable restrictions” on advertisement.

What is even more concerning is marijuana’s potential to act as a “gateway drug” to harder substances. Under Massachusetts’ proposed initiative, individuals would be permitted to grow up to 12 marijuana plants in a single household. This amount could render an enormous amount of product, creating plenty of opportunities for young people to get their hands on the drug, and potentially encourage them to move onto more serious substances. Governor Charlie Baker has voiced the gateway concern, saying that legalization would “threaten to reverse our progress combating the growing opioid epidemic.” Corey Welford, a spokesperson for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, agreed with Baker’s concern, stating, “We are in the midst of an addiction crisis, and now is not the time to create an industry whose business model is predicated on promoting and selling another harmful, addictive drug.”

Moreover, children could unintentionally consume marijuana through what are commonly known as edibles. The ballot initiative does not address the regulation or labeling of edible marijuana products such as beverages, baked goods or candy. If these products are not carefully labelled, a child could easily consume a marijuana-infused edible product unknowingly. This was a significant problem in Colorado after it was legalized and required substantial time and effort from law enforcement to establish regulations concerning edible products.

Lastly, the economic arguments that many proponents of marijuana legalization often cite may not be applicable in the case of Massachusetts. Although Colorado has seen significant increases in tax revenue in recent years, the tax imposed on marijuana sales in Massachusetts would be about one third of what is imposed in Colorado, when taking into account extra sales and excise taxes.

All of these concerns lead to a general conclusion that marijuana legalization could be more costly for the state than advantageous, and thus Massachusetts residents should vote no to Question 4 come November.