Opponents of legal pot see more drugged driving, harm to youth

  • Just one vine of the 10 medical marijuana plants Francesco Compagnone and Patti Scutari were growing remains after state police seized them in early September. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan

  • Marijuana plants growing in the DAR State Forest in Goshen.

  • Northfield Police needed four large trash bags to haul off the freshly cut marijuana they discovered in a car during a traffic stop. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Some argue that legalizing pot will lead to more auto accidents. Recorder file photo

  • Rep. Hannah Kane

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/28/2016 9:42:59 PM

GREENFIELD — Marijuana has been illegal in the United States since the early 20th century, and opponents of Question 4 on the Nov. 8 ballot want to keep it that way for a number of reasons.

If approved, the initiative would legalize marijuana possession, use, cultivation and sales for adults over the age of 21 and establish a new commission to oversee the resulting industry, as the state regulates liquor.

But those who argue for maintaining the status quo are concerned that increasing both access to and the perception of safety around marijuana would see the state’s youngest residents use more of it with unknown long-term health and social effects, would bolster existing black markets, and would increase the risk of intoxicated driving.

State Rep. Hannah Kane is on the steering committee for the opposition Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. She says the ballot question is poorly designed and authored by commercial interests so the marijuana industry can open doors in Massachusetts.

“It was written by the marijuana industry, for the marijuana industry,” Kane said. “This is not a philosophical (ballot question). It’s possible to believe that marijuana should be legalized, but this is not the right way to go about legalizing it.”

A portion of the funding for the Campaign was donated by the existing commercial alcohol, wine, beer and restaurant industries, according to records from the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Edible alarm

Kane said opponents are particularly worried about edible marijuana-infused products, like baked goods and candy. That’s the fastest growing part of the marijuana industry in Colorado, where marijuana has been legal since 2014.

Kane notes the ballot initiative offers no limits or guidelines on the potency of those foods. “They are highly potent products that we’re unfamiliar with,” she said. Once out of the packaging, she said they could be easily mistaken for a regular snack.

“There’s not a lot of research done on the health effects, and they’re highly attractive to young people,” she said.

Dangerous driving

Drugged driving is another area of major concern for Question 4 opponents. Kane said Washington, one of the other four states where marijuana is legal, reported substantial jumps in fatalities resulting from car crashes involving marijuana.

“The reality is, there’s nothing akin to a Breathalyzer to detect marijuana impairment,” Kane noted. “There’s no threshold for what can be in your system before deeming someone over the limit. Do we want to experience that here?”

Local control

Kane said the ballot question doesn’t give enough local control over where, when and how marijuana is sold to the state’s cities and towns. The ballot question would require a community-wide referendum on whether to allow on-premise consumption at marijuana establishments and to restrict the number of marijuana establishments that could be opened in a town, among other regulations.

While the initiative favors one industry, Kane said, it’s detrimental to others. “The construction industry will have a hard time finding people who can pass a drug test that they can employ,” she said.

Backyard pot farms

Homegrowing poses another legal concern, Kane said. She said the law allows for up to 12 plants to be grown at home.

“That has a street value of $60,000 and the ability to make 500 to 800 joints,” she said. “You could do that twice in one year. There will be mini pot farms in people’s own homes and that creates another black market.”

She said ensuring homegrowing is undertaken within the legal limits would also be difficult if it becomes more common, straining police and law enforcement resources.

Other concerns

Since marijuana is illegal at the federal level, the state wouldn’t be able to rely on the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee marijuana cultivation and quality testing — it would need to be done in state.

“That’s a huge increased cost for the taxpayers that would come with the increased revenue from the sales,” she said.

Other costs would include stepping up marijuana abuse prevention programs and funding the new Cannabis Control Commission’s activities, she said.

While the Campaign has not referred to marijuana as a “gateway” drug, Kane said, the state is currently in the midst of an ongoing opioid and heroin addiction epidemic, and she said legalizing marijuana would be the wrong move, sending the wrong message, at this time.

“We don’t want to take our eye off the ball of the opioid epidemic,” she said.

Kane noted more than 100 state legislators, Gov. Charlie Baker, the state speaker of the House, the state attorney general and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have joined a variety of nonprofits and other interest groups in opposing the initiative.

Many of the state’s health care groups also oppose the question.

“There’s a bipartisan effort to oppose this,” she said. “We don’t want to be on the leading edge of (marijuana legalization). We want to be on the informed, educated edge.”

You can reach Tom Relihan at: 413-772-0261, ext. 264 or trelihan@recorder.com On Twitter, @RecorderTom


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