Boston, Mass. — The pro-pot movement in California announced a victory this week, as California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act gained 600,000 signatures, far ahead of the 365,000 needed by July 5 to qualify for its November ballot.
On the other side the the country, however, political leaders in liberal Massachusetts, the state that introduced an Obamacare-like system, balk at legalizing marijuana. And Vermont, home of socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, criticized Massachusetts’s marijuana legalization initiative as too lax and killed its own fledgling pot bill.
What’s going on here?
On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker (R), Attorney General Maura Healey (D), and Boston’s Mayor Martin Walsh (D) wrote a Boston Globe editorial opposing legalization with a public health argument. They cited Colorado’s early experiment with marijuana legalization, saying it proved marijuana would be a complex addition to the state:
“The costs to our first responders, our medical system, and our cities and towns must be factored in when we speculate about the potential increase in tax revenues from legalizing marijuana. In Colorado, marijuana sales taxes account for just a fraction of one percent of total state revenues. Here in Massachusetts, we face the possibility that any new revenue would be vastly insufficient to cover the cost of ambulance rides, emergency room visits, and treatment. “
Massachusetts politicians raised these concerns after seeing the case study for legalization in Colorado, says Sen. Viriato deMacedo (R), one of nine senators who went on a four-day fact-finding mission to Colorado.
“We in the Commonwealth would be better watching and learning from the case study of Colorado for five or six years, rather than just two,” he tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview.
They saw the vast industry opened by legalization, all requiring state-level regulation in everything from pesticide use to the monetary system.
“I think if people understand that this not about – ‘Do we want marijuana, yes or no?’ – this is about legalizing an entire industry and people competing about who has the best marijuana,” Sen. deMacedo says. “It’s about money, and I don’t think most people have an understanding of that.”
He said the logistical challenges of legalization drew concerns from his colleagues in government across the political spectrum. After one year of studied neutrality, the chair of the state’s special committee on marijuana Sen. Jason Lewis (D) returned from Colorado with a cautionary tale.
“You’re never going to stamp out any of the concerns on accidental ingestion or people not using the product in a responsible way,” he told the State House News Service.
The committee was surprised, for example, by the variety of ways consumers ingest marijuana, and by its potency in products. A traditional joint might have 2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the drug’s active ingredient, but many products now contain as much as 90 percent.
Sen. Lewis told the State House News Service he doubted the state’s ability to sufficiently regulate such a complex industry, noting that legalization does not appear to have curbed Colorado’s black market for the substance.