Massachusetts voters are being asked to weigh-in on an important ballot initiative: Question 4: To approve the use of recreational marijuana. If the majority votes yes, residents 21 and older will be able to legally possess, use, and transfer marijuana – and marijuana products – as well as cultivate the plant in their own homes.
This decision to legalize the recreational use of marijuana would be detrimental to our state for several reasons, both economical and societal. A simple look at the experiences of Colorado and Washington, who both recently voted yes, shines a bright light on increased traffic fatalities, increased youth usage, and subpar tax revenues.
Edibles Increase Risk to Children’s Lives: Edibles – food infused with cannabis – account for nearly half of all marijuana sold in Colorado, and they are a particular risk to children and pets. Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Denver reported that, after legalization, its emergency room saw one to two children per month needing treatment for accidental marijuana consumption – as compared to zero before legalization. And the risk with edibles is even greater, as there is no limit on the potency of edibles written into the proposal in Massachusetts. Edible products have been known to have THC levels as high as 95 percent, compared to THC in marijuana plants, which averages around 17-18 percent.
Fatalities Due to Impaired Driving: In the year after Washington State legalized marijuana, traffic deaths due to drugged driving doubled. In Colorado, drug-related auto accidents have increased 210 percent since 2006. It’s also difficult to deter or punish people who break this law, as there is no Breathalyzer test equivalent for marijuana influence.
Home Growing Encourages Illegal Sales of Marijuana: A yes on Question 4 will give individuals the right to grow thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana plants in their house or backyard, regardless of potential complaints of neighbors. Despite legalization, the illegal sale of marijuana is still prevalent in Colorado, and black-market dealers are taking full advantage of legally growing their own product and selling it on the streets – and even Craigslist – for full profit.
Teen Use Up: Since legalization, Colorado has become the number one state in the nation for teen marijuana consumption, with usage jumping more than 12 percent. Teens who smoke are 4.5 times less likely to earn a college degree, and the drug has been found to lower IQ and affect mental health.
Impact on Local Communities: No limits will be set on the number of marijuana producers and sellers that could operate in Massachusetts. In a brief time, Colorado is already home to more marijuana dispensaries than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. Additionally, The Denver Post reported that marijuana dispensaries and production facilities are disproportionately located in low income neighborhoods, at a rate of one facility for every 91 residents. The targeting of minorities and low-income families is apparent.
The Myth of the Tax Incentive: While Colorado, Washington State, Alaska and Oregon currently collect anywhere from 25-37 percent sales tax on marijuana, the total tax that will be attached to the sale of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts will be just 10-12 percent. The tax for medical marijuana will remain at zero. When all is said and done, some marijuana merchants will win big, while the rest of our residents could end up subsidizing the industry.
Sobriety’s Worst Enemy: A provider of addiction treatment, Bay Cove Human Services takes the needs of our past, present and future clients very seriously. Those in successful recovery often feel that marijuana is a safe option, and can ultimately result in a full relapse due to this dangerous mindset. The legality of the drug would only further justify this notion, and put those with a substance use disorder in more danger.
Massachusetts should not put the well-being of our youth and community safety at risk. Make the best decision possible for your children, community and wallet – vote NO on Question 4.
Bill Sprague is President and CEO of Bay Cove Human Services, Inc., an agency serving thousands of individuals and families in Eastern Mass. who face the challenges of drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, developmental disabilities, and aging.