By Bill Humphrey
If passed, Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, to legalize marijuana, would create more problems than it solves.
By “decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, the proposal would legitimize the entire marijuana market. Because it would no longer be a criminal offense to buy – and presumably use – marijuana, the entire demand side of the market would become legal, which would probably raise demand.
Some proponents claim legalization would reduce its use, but evidence from states such as California suggests otherwise. When California 12 years ago legalized marijuana, to be sold at designated places by “doctor’s prescription, its use actually rose because purchasing it was no longer a hassle. Question 2 would increase demand, and so Massachusetts suppliers would most likely sell more.
Those who are pro-legalization also often claim that marijuana’s illegality encourages teens and young adults to buy marijuana for the thrill of breaking the law. Under the new policy, however, there would still be many penalties for the under-17 crowd, so it would not make it any less appealing by the law-breaking argument.
Question 2 also transfers possession penalties from criminal charges to civil fines that would be paid to the town or city in which the user was “caught. That’s essentially a weird tax on marijuana that is only collected occasionally. It would not have the same effect that the cigarette tax has on reducing cigarette use and generating revenue.
Those who are opposed to the War on Drugs, and there are certainly reasonable arguments against its continuation, will not see any improvements under this policy, if passed. At a federal level, criminal penalties would still stand, which means DEA agents could still bring down full government force against marijuana buyers or sellers.
Unlike California, we do not have Congressional leaders with enough status in the House to de-fund Homeland Security raids against marijuana in Massachusetts. Furthermore, while the War on Drugs is probably a fairly lost cause in heavily urban areas, passage of Question 2 would increase marijuana dealing and use in the other areas of the state, making it harder for police to do their jobs.
In suburban and rural areas, given lower overall crime rates, police are compelled to pay more attention to specific violations of the law, so if marijuana sales increased to meet higher demand there, the police force would have more work. Question 2 still keeps threat of arrest and some penalties for marijuana possessors, though criminal penalties against dealers still hold.
Another feature of Question 2 would lift the existing requirement of filing CORI reports for anyone arrested for marijuana possession. The CORI checks are meant to keep dangerous adults away from kids in certain settings. For some reason, proponents of Question 2 think a person who uses marijuana is not dangerous around kids. A CORI violation from marijuana use is rarely the only offense, but it flags the person as a possible menace.
If a person is actually caught for marijuana use and a CORI report is filed, that person was probably already posing a public danger, which would not be the case for the few who quietly use marijuana in the privacy of their homes. A person arrested for marijuana possession may try to sell or offer drugs to minors or endanger people by driving with drugs in their vehicle. There is no reason to lift the CORI report requirement for marijuana possession.
Economically, Question 2 makes little sense. For law enforcement, it makes no sense. Question 2 underestimates a real danger, yet surprisingly the opposition lacks coherence and organization, so it will probably pass. Vote No.