Pubdate: Wed, 03 Aug 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Joshua Miller


Boston City Council President Michelle Wu and Councilor Tito Jackson 
will formally endorse the state ballot push to legalize marijuana for 
recreational use. The move, to be announced at a State House event 
Wednesday morning, puts them directly at odds with Mayor Martin J. 
Walsh, who is helping to lead the charge against the referendum.

A 2007 graduate of Harvard College, Wu said she never used the drug 
but recalled some classmates did during their years in Cambridge.

"It just seems ridiculous that kids at Harvard can smoke pot and have 
incredibly successful careers while blacks and Latinos, particularly 
men and boys, who are using the same substance are sent to jail," she 
said, voice rising.

"It doesn't make sense for our criminal justice system. It doesn't 
make sense for our economy. Certainly, there are issues we have to 
work out for our regulation of it, but I believe we are up to the 
task," Wu said. "I will be voting yes on the ballot question."

Jackson said the new revenue streams from the effort to legalize and 
tax marijuana could help fund more treatment beds for people 
struggling with opioid addiction. He said legalization will help 
shrink the illegal drug market while creating an industry that brings 
sustainable jobs to Boston. And, he said, legalization will help 
address racial disparities in the prosecution of drug crimes.

Both Jackson and Wu have previously expressed support for 
legalization, but their decision to stand at the State House and 
formally join with the pro-legalization campaign represents a boost 
for the effort, which enjoys only limited support from elected officials.

Alex Morse, the 27-year-old mayor of Holyoke, endorsed the 
legalization question Monday and is poised to participate in the event as well.

But the opposition includes Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and House 
Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. Top medical, business, education, and law 
enforcement groups - from the Massachusetts Medical Society to the 
Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association - also oppose legalizing 
retail sales of marijuana.

Walsh on Tuesday noted the scourge of opioid overdoses across the 
state. "We're putting money into reducing addiction," he said, "and I 
think legalizing marijuana is the wrong direction to go in."

Asked about his public stance putting him at odds with Walsh, 
Jackson, who is seen as having ambitions for higher office, said: "I 
believe it puts me in line with helping the largest number of people 
in the city of Boston."

Wu laughed and said she didn't have a comment on political 
ramifications of being on the other side of the mayor on a major policy fight.

Supporters of the measure are likely to back up Wu's criminal justice 
argument, that marijuana laws disproportionately affect minorities, 
by pointing to an American Civil Liberties Union report from June 2013.

According to that study, the arrest rate for marijuana possession in 
Massachusetts was the lowest in the country after voters in 2008 
decriminalized possessing relatively small amounts. But, the report 
says, "the racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests did not 
improve - in fact, they grew worse: the arrest rate in 2010 was 61 
per 100,000 blacks and 16 per 100,000 whites, a ratio of 3.81."

Yet the report is more than three years old and is sure to see 
pushback from those who oppose the ballot effort.

'It just seems ridiculous that kids at Harvard can smoke pot and have 
incredibly successful careers while blacks and Latinos . . . who are 
using the same substance are sent to jail.' Michelle Wu, Boston City 
Council president

State Senator Jason M. Lewis, who led a committee studying the issue 
and now is working to defeat legalization, told the Globe earlier 
this year that some criminal justice worries are unfounded.

He said criminal penalties for marijuana possession of an ounce or 
less have already been replaced with a system of civil penalties.

And for most adults who use the drug casually, there simply aren't 
any criminal sanctions.

"Virtually nobody is actually being arrested and going to jail for 
marijuana use," he said at the time, adding that as best as his staff 
can tell, fewer than 10 people a year are incarcerated for possession 
of more than an ounce, and most of those people are getting locked up 
for another offense.

Should voters pass the referendum, possessing, using, and giving away 
an ounce or less of recreational marijuana would be legal for adults 
21 and older as of Dec. 15, and retail sales could begin in January 
2018. Marijuana for medical use is already legal in Massachusetts.

The proposed law would create a "Cannabis Control Commission," with 
members appointed by the state treasurer to oversee marijuana stores, 
cultivation facilities, testing facilities, and manufacturers of 
edible products such as marijuana-infused brownies and sodas.

The measure would impose a 3.75 percent excise tax on retail 
marijuana sales, in addition to the state's 6.25 percent sales tax - 
and it would allow cities and towns to levy an additional 2 percent 
tax that the municipalities could keep.

Voters in four other states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska - 
and the District of Columbia have approved recreational legalization efforts.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom