Pubdate: Sat, 18 Jan 2014
Source: Taunton Daily Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2014 Taunton Daily Gazette


In recent years, through ballot initiatives, Massachusetts has joined 
a number of states in decriminalizing the possession of less than one 
ounce of marijuana, making it a civil offense with a $100 fine. Four 
years later, 63 percent of the commonwealth's voters allowed the 
legalization and retail distribution of medical marijuana.

In Rhode Island, which does not have a voter initiative process, the 
General Assembly has passed similar laws through legislation. Now, 
following the lead of two western states - Colorado, which has 
recently begun retail sales of recreational pot, and Washington, 
which will do so next year - Massachusetts voters, on the 2016 
ballot, may decide on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire House of Representatives, by a 170-162 
vote, became the nation's first legislative body to vote in favor of 
recreational marijuana legalization. However, it is unclear what the 
fate of that legislation may be in the Senate, and the Granite 
State's governor has vowed a veto if it makes it to her desk. A bill 
to legalize recreational marijuana has been introduced in Rhode Island as well.

While marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I drug by federal law, 
the system of federalism seems to be a good model for the incremental 
legalization of pot - not nearly as harmful as other "hard drugs," 
which remain justifiably illegal, and even some legal 
pharmaceuticals. Legalization proponents argue that marijuana has 
fewer health and public safety risks than alcohol, another substance 
which endured a failed experiment in prohibition. However, some law 
enforcement officers remain concerned that if marijuana is legalized 
for recreational purposes, it would be detrimental to public safety 
and society.

There is no consensus among law enforcement officers and prosecutors 
on pot legalization. While Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and 
District Attorney Sam Sutter oppose legalization, Fall River's police 
chief said he would not outright oppose legalization efforts, but 
would rather leave it to the community to decide.

Taunton's police chief, who expects pot to be legalized by 
Massachusetts voters in the next three to five years, believes that 
there would be "no major impact" to public safety. Meanwhile, should 
marijuana be legalized and taxed, it would certainly be a boon to the 
state budget at the expense of drug dealers, cartels and other 
criminal enterprises that are currently raking in the tax-free cash.

In coming elections, legalization advocates plan to petition for a 
series of nonbinding local referenda in various Massachusetts 
representative districts. With the expected 2016 timing of the 
proposed ballot measure, Massachusetts voters will be in a good 
position to evaluate how the legalization experiment has worked in 
states that allow it. In the five years since small amounts of pot 
were decriminalized, Massachusetts has not seen any of the negative 
effects pot prohibitionists warned of.

By the time 2016 comes around, the commonwealth will have also had 
the opportunity to see how the medical marijuana system has worked. 
When it comes to changes in law, incremental steps make sense, and 
Massachusetts seems to be taking the right steps at the right times 
in order for voters to make an informed decision. 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom