Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization: Federal & Local Governments Tone-Deaf to Voters

As a Massachusetts drug arrest defense lawyer, I never cease to be amazed at the resistance I see to the will of the voters on the subject of marijuana legalization, from both the federal government, as well as local government here in Massachusetts.  It really is stunning.  I say this as someone who is not a recreational user of marijuana, but as an attorney who has seen far too many people’s reputations and lives damaged due to criminal accusations connected with pot use.  Equally troubling is the massive amount of taxpayer dollars that are spent on police departments and prosecutors to prosecute use of a substance that almost always involves a victimless and harmless fact pattern.

I consider the source of the federal government’s resistance to be obvious:  Big Pharma, which does not want cannabis legalized for either medicinal or recreational use.  The smple reason?  They want the public to use their drugs – the FDA “approved” drugs – for relief from pain and a whole host of physical diseases and ailments – and cannabis has been shown to provide relief from a variety of illnesses, from Parkinson’s to ALS, to cancer treatments, to anxiety.  The pharmaceutical drug companies that make their “approved” drugs, make billions of dollars through the choke-hold they have on those drugs to treat these conditions.  And they don’t want to have to compete with cannabis, and lose billions in the process.

That’s why marijuana is classified by the FDA in the same category as heroin.  Yes, you heard that right – heroin.  You see, the FDA categorizes controlled substances as belonging to one of five separate “Schedules” – 1 through 5.  The drugs with the lowest potential for abuse and least harmful are classified as Schedule 5 drugs, containing very small quantities of controlled substances, such as cough syrup with extremely small amounts of codeine.  Drugs with the highest potential for abuse and harm, which are classified as having “No currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse,” are Schedule 1 drugs and include heroin and – yes, sit down:  marijuana.  Pot, classified by the FDA in the same category of drugs as heroin:  A completely, scientifically unsupportable claim – and yet, there it remains.  If someone doesn’t see the obvious reasons why this remains so in 2017, when state after state has approved cannabis for both medicinal and recreational use, then I suggest a reality check.  Big money is behind this. Big business.  Big Pharma.

But even more confusing, is scattered local government opposition to pot legalization:  Many towns and cities in Massachusetts have drawn up local bylaws forbidding marijuana use in public.  I can only surmise that these local officials have “drank the Kool-Aid,” to employ a fitting metaphor, and somehow envision the streets of their communities filled with stoners, the air thick with smoke from lit joints, schoolkids smoking in public, and echoes of “hey, man,” punctuating public conversations everywhere.  This kind of apocalyptic, histrionic thinking is unreasoned and extreme.  I would remind such leaders that many people offered similar predictions five years or so ago within the debate over legalizing medical marijuana.  Funny, those dire predictions never came to pass.  And I remember the same portents of doom from local police departments a lesser number of years ago, when pot was decriminalized in Massachusetts.  Funny, those malignant outcomes never appeared, either.  Now that recreational pot has been legalized – once again, by the voters, no less – we hear the same histrionic chants about the downfall of our communities.

I’d ask these people:  Can’t you see that the baseless claims of the “dangers” of cannabis use have been defeated, long ago?  Don’t you see that alcohol – legal everywhere – is hundreds of times more “harmful” than pot?  Why are you not rushing to prohibit someone from drinking a beer on his back porch?

Efforts to defeat or limit the will of the voters on this subject are misguided.  If you don’t want to take my word for it, then listen to the powerful voices of law enforcement officers and medicals professionals within Law Enforcement Action Partnership/LEAP (formerly Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.)

There’s a popular saying – “Elvis Has Left The Building,” meaning it’s over, folks.  Pack it up and go home.  This subject has been debated so many times, at so many levels, for so many years, by so many experts, that it boggles the mind that “rational” people would still claim that cannabis is dangerous, addictive, harmful, or any of the other apocalyptic synonyms that have been thrown about for the last 75 years or so.

Let’s get smart about drug policy in this country.  Let’s treat the sick who are addicted to terrible drugs such as heroin, and see pot users for what they are:  Far less harmful than the person next to you in a restaurant, having a very legal “cocktail.”

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