The new marijuana debate is national

(THE MEXICO LEDGER) — By Rick Holmes

The marijuana legalization question on the ballots in about a dozen states this fall may be a simple yes or no proposition. But today’s conversation about marijuana is more complicated than you’d think, especially compared to the mostly one-sided debates of the war-on-drugs era.

The campaigns in Massachusetts are already heating up. The proponents, a local affiliate of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, have been at it for a year, collecting signatures and building a base of support. The opposition opened its campaign this month, with Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh taking the lead and a new group, the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, is backing them up.

The themes of the opposition are familiar: Pot is bad — more potent and dangerous than the stuff you smoked back in college — and especially bad for kids. The initiative is funded by bad, for-profit corporations that, like tobacco companies, will profit by getting kids hooked. Marijuana leads to harder drugs, especially heroin.

But the context is different today. The debate is no longer between marijuana and no marijuana; all agree marijuana is here to stay. The question is whether it will continue to be distributed through the black market or through a legal, taxed and regulated industry.

This is Reefer Madness revised. No longer are the opponents pretending that one puff of marijuana will turn an adult into a monster. Now it’s all about the children, and the old argument that marijuana is bad for kids is stronger than ever. Research confirms that marijuana use, especially heavy use, has lasting effects on adolescent brain development.

But there are lots of things that are bad for children but just fine for adults. Should they all be illegal? More to the point, is a black market better at protecting children than licensed and regulated retailers?

“Our opponents seem to prefer that criminals control the marijuana market and sell untested, unlabeled products to people of any age,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the proponents.

Opponents like Baker and state Sen. Jason Lewis, the Senate’s point person on marijuana issues, point to Colorado as an example of the dangers of legalization, but Colorado isn’t exactly cooperating. A poll last fall found 53 percent of residents say legal weed has been good for the state, with 39 percent saying it has been bad.


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