Pubdate: Sat, 07 Dec 2013
Source: Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2013 Daily Hampshire Gazette
Author: Bill Newman
Note: Bill Newman is a Northampton lawyer and host of a WHMP weekday 
program. His column appears the first Saturday of the month.


NORTHAMPTON - "Marijuana legalized in Massachusetts." Expect that 
headline on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

For years, public opinion polls across the United States have 
demonstrated widespread support to end marijuana prohibition. 
Unfortunately, politicians still paranoid of the moniker "soft on 
crime" or "soft on drugs" have waffled on this issue and waited for 
the people to lead.

And the people have. In 2008, Massachusetts citizens voted by a 65-35 
margin to decriminalize possession of a small amount for personal 
use, replacing a criminal sanction with a rarely enforced $100 civil 
penalty. Four years later, in 2012, Massachusetts joined 18 other 
states when voters approved medical marijuana by a similar landslide 
margin, 63-37.

Something else important happened in the fight for sane marijuana 
policies in 2012. Colorado and Washington state flat-out legalized 
marijuana for personal use, creating a system of regulation and 
taxation. Some months later, Attorney General Eric Holder announced 
that the federal Department of Justice would not bust producers, 
sellers and consumers of marijuana who conformed to their state's 
marijuana laws - notwithstanding that cannabis remains illegal under 
federal statutes.

On Nov. 8, 2016, in Massachusetts, as well as in a number of other 
states, expect to see the question of legalization on the ballot.

The day after the election newspapers undoubtedly will quote some 
police official or the president of the Massachusetts Family 
Institute as "vehemently opposing" legalization and predicting "dire 
results." Fortunately, the story also will include the view of law 
enforcement officials who believe that the marijuana prohibition has 
been ineffective, unnecessary and unfair - a gargantuan waste of time 
and money that detracts from police doing what they are supposed to 
do - fight actual crime.

LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) will praise the vote as 
making Massachusetts safer by eliminating gangs and guns and laced 
pot - not to mention the stigma of arrest - from the calculus of 
marijuana use. The newspaper will go on to note that sale of 
marijuana will be restricted to adults; that legalization, studies 
show, does not increase use of marijuana by young people; and that 
criminal sanctions will remain in place for unauthorized sale or 
distribution and for driving under the influence.

The story undoubtedly will credit Bay State Repeal with having put 
different versions of the ballot initiative on the 2014 ballot as 
non-binding public policy questions, and using those results to craft 
the precise language for the 2016 ballot proposal. The newspaper will 
also note that Bay State Repeal secured the necessary number of 
signatures for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot and then 
helped organize the successful grassroots campaign.

Between now and November 2016, one of the biggest fights - curiously 
- - may occur between two groups that both favor legalization. One 
group, composed primarily of licensed medical marijuana growers (who 
likely will be grandfathered as the licensed marijuana suppliers) may 
oppose a person's right to grow a couple plants at home for his or 
her own use. After all, we're talking lost market share and missed 
tax revenue. But the more rational position is that if people can 
cultivate their own tomatoes and grapes and make homebrew, they 
should be allowed to grow marijuana for their own use as well. Can we 
agree that home gardeners and commercial tomato growers co-exist 
quite nicely and that we don't need local law enforcement 
surveillance drones peering through our bedroom windows allegedly to 
determine if someone is growing a pot plant?

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter who will attend the legalization 
victory party will quote one supporter as saying, "People will look 
back at marijuana prohibition and wonder how could it have taken us 
over 80 years from repeal of the alcohol prohibition to get to the 
repeal of marijuana prohibition." Another supporter standing nearby 
will interject, "Because marijuana was viewed as a drug that blacks 
used, and criminal drug laws allowed the United States to imprison 
people of color and, of course, some white people were caught up in 
that dragnet as well."

That explanation is unassailable. Campaign slogans from the late 
1960s and early 1970s about a war on crime and drugs have 
transmogrified into a horrible, senseless and expensive experiment in 
mass incarceration. As Attorney General Holder has pointed out, the 
United States, with only 5 percent of the world's population, now 
incarcerates almost 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

The final paragraph of this newspaper's story may include a 
human-interest note - about a 60-something civil liberties lawyer at 
that victory party sitting alone, nursing a beer, looking pensive. 
When asked "Why the long face?" the attorney will muse, "I can't help 
thinking about the millions and millions, the tens of millions, of 
people and families whose lives have been destroyed by these stupid drug laws."

When pressed to admit that the vote made him happy, his face 
brightened and he said, "You bet. I've lived through many decades 
when I never dreamed I'd live to see this day."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom