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On Marijuana, Massachusetts Politicians Are Out Of Step With The Public

Not a single day went by in April when some government official didn't move to block access to cannabis. With a ballot referendum on legalization coming in just under half a year, the reefer madness never seems to end - from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh teaming with Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo to oppose the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), to state Treasurer Deb Goldberg preemptively plotting to ban home cultivation and stall implementation if Commonwealth voters approve legal weed.

How did we get to this point? In part, it's because some of the current leading prohibitionists forging the narrative have had unsubstantiated hangups for years - in spite of the growing support across the state for progressive reforms on marijuana policies.

Anti-legalization politicians on wrong side of history

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, above has teamed with Gov. Charlie Baker to oppose the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA)

In 2008, Walsh, then a state representative, spoke in opposition to marijuana decriminalization. He then went on to claim that cannabis leads to mental institutions, jail, and death. Like a lot of others, he's wrong on the facts, and also on the wrong side of history: that November, nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts voters ignored the campaign against decriminalization and voted in favor of a binding initiative making possession of less than one ounce a non-criminal offense.

Four years later, in 2012, Walsh led the campaign against medical marijuana and again suffered a loss (reform won with 63 percent of the vote). Alongside him in opposing that initiative, all of the Commonwealth's district attorneys, in a last-minute panic, banded together and funded a campaign to block patients from medicine.

Behind their sky-is-falling tactics, DAs appeared to be defending their salaries, and the status quo. There is money in the prosecution business, and any threat to the ongoing drug war summons the idea and fear of budget cuts. Of course, the Boston media is largely uninterested in that storyline, though judging by their behavior, voters seem adequately skeptical.

Back to the most absurd spate of state marijuana prohibition chirping in memory - even more egregious than the aforementioned obstructions. Earlier this month, with the press on extra-sympathetic mode in the lead-up to One Boston Day and the anniversary of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, Walsh and Baker announced their newly formed Campaign For A Safe and Healthy Massachusetts in opposition to the November legalization question. They may have expected there to be little public response given the timing. They were wrong.

Governor links marijuana to the opiate problem

At one point Baker seemed to be softening his stance, on medical marijuana, at least. In 2014, it seemed Baker was working to help medical marijuana patients. He even uttered some extraordinary statements to the Boston Herald tabloid, calling medical cannabis "a significantly improved solution" for patients, "compared to some of the more traditional solutions like opioids."

That was then, this is now. Now the governor ignorantly links marijuana to the opiate problem. All without any real pushback from the Boston media, or challenges on specific statements. Read, watch, and listen to the big news outlets, and you won't hear much about the significant reduction in opiate-related overdose deaths in states where marijuana is more readily and legally available. Those studies consider the implementation of medical marijuana regulations; imagine the possibilities under a responsible legal system.

Marijuana reform in Massachusetts is undefeated at the polls over the last 20 years, with more than 80 straight wins in public policy questions and ballot initiatives spanning every ward and precinct in the Commonwealth - with an average 2-to-1 spread for decriminalization, medical, and legal.

Luckily, the case for cannabis has been made - by advocates including us as well as the voting public - and will be further strengthened in November. To parrot CRMLA campaign manager Will Luzier, who recently quoted infamous former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley on my radio show, The Young Jurks, "Every knock, a boost." Nevertheless, Luzier also noted something else that Curley would have likely stressed above the rest, "We're going to win - just as long as we get people out to vote."

Mike Crawford is a medical marijuana patient, the host of The Young Jurks on WEMF Radio, and the author of the weekly column The Tokin' Truth, which is produced in coordination with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.


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