Pubdate: Tue, 16 Feb 2016
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2016 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area, 200 word count limit
Author: Rick Holmes
Note: Rick Holmes writes for GateHouse Media and the MetroWest Daily News.


It's a message as old as the War on Drugs: If there's anything you 
need to know about marijuana, just ask a cop.

For some members of the Massachusetts state legislature, faced with 
the possibility that voters will legalize marijuana in November's 
election, the old playbook is the only one they have. So they invited 
some police in to explain drugs to them.

The results were as predictable as a middle school D.A.R.E. assembly. 
The cops, including an officer from Colorado traveling the country 
warning about the danger of legalizing recreational marijuana use, 
advised Massachusetts to "Just Say No."

The assembly featured an old bogeyman in a new revival. "Marijuana is 
a gateway drug to the problems of the opioid crisis that we're having 
today and to ignore that fact is at our own peril and the peril of 
our children," Rep. Harold Naughton, D-Clinton, said.

The marijuana-as-gateway-drug is easily discredited. As researchers 
Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan pointed out decades ago, since large 
majorities of marijuana users never go on to try harder drugs, it 
could more accurately be called a "terminus drug." They are 
scientists, not cops, so the House apparently has no interest in what 
they have to say about it.

But Naughton and friends ought to know that four out of five of 
today's heroin addicts started with prescription painkillers. Now 
THAT'S a gateway drug.

Jim Gerhardt, a cop from Thornton, Colorado, and vice president of 
the Colorado Drug Investigators Association, told the Beacon Hill 
gathering of all the horrors that have befallen his state since 
voters legalized recreational pot in 2012: People driving under the 
influence; people overindulging in "edibles" and regretting it when 
the drug took effect; pets getting into the marijuana brownies; 
increased hospital admissions, marijuana falling into the hands of youth.

"My message is: Slow down. Study what's going on," Gerhardt, told the 

But listening to police is no way to find out what's going on. As Jim 
Borghesani, a spokesman for the group behind the ballot question, 
told State House News Service, "Getting perspective on marijuana 
prohibition from these career prohibitionists is like getting 
perspective on veganism from cattle ranchers."

A state Senate commission actually visited Colorado, taking the 
advice to study the issue more seriously. If the House members 
studied harder, they'd find that Colorado very quickly adopted new 
rules on packaging and doses in response to incidents of people - 
especially cannabis tourists - eating too many cookies and falling 
into a non-lethal stupor. They would also learn about the public 
education efforts that are helping keep marijuana, like other adult 
products, out of the hands of kids.

They would also hear, as I heard last summer from Colorado's top 
marijuana regulator, that despite some early bumps on the road, there 
is no momentum behind reversing the legalization vote.

If they spoke with people actually taking advantage of the freedom to 
smoke a joint without risking arrest, they might learn that there's a 
learning curve, for users as well as regulators. Yes, legalization 
has resulted in new products and new strains, some of them pretty 
powerful. But no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose, and, as 
toxicologists have said for 500 years, "the dose makes the poison."

Whiskey has eight times as much alcohol per volume as beer; that's 
why it isn't served in 12-ounce cans. It's not that complicated.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is putting 
legalization on the Massachusetts ballot, has learned from the 
experience of Colorado and other states that have tackled the issue. 
Their initiative, for instance, creates a state Cannabis Control 
Commission that can write rules for dosages, products, signage and 
packaging. It could keep marijuana dispensaries from looking like 
theme parks peddling drugs that look like gummy bears.

If Beacon Hill lawmakers took their responsibilities more seriously, 
they would be writing the legislation that serves their constituents 
and organizes a new, regulated industry, instead of leaving the 
legislating to activists backed by the industry. For decades, bills 
have been introduced that would do just that, but they are never 
brought to the floor for a vote, and this year will be no different.

"The vast majority of legislators just want this to go to the 
ballot," Sen. Jamie Eldridge, one of 10 co-sponsors of a bill 
legalizing and regulating marijuana, told me. The politicians have an 
irrational fear of being called "soft on drugs" - a worry that has 
paralyzed generations of lawmakers.

It's an irrational fear, near as I can tell. Rep. Tom Sannicandro, 
D-Ashland, who is also on record favoring legalization, says he's had 
no blowback at all from constituents over his position. Eldridge has 
heard a little disagreement, he said, but not enough to have any 
impact on his campaign prospects.

"Politicians are overly influenced by law enforcement," he said. "But 
the people are ahead of the politicians on this issue."

Come November, the people - not the politicians or the police - will decide.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom