Lawmakers not sold on pot

House rallies opposition to legal marijuana ballot question

MASSACHUSETTS LAWMAKERS OPPOSED to legalizing marijuana brought in an array of law enforcement officials as well as a buffet of kid-enticing pot products to try to scare the state straight before a ballot question to regulate the weed makes it before voters in November.

A package that contained a legal marijuana brownie.

A package that contained a legal marijuana brownie.

“This entire Commonwealth has been affected by the opioid addiction crisis,” said state Rep. Harold Naughton, House chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. “People may think it’s unfair to start the conversation about marijuana with reference to opioids, but I don’t think it’s unfair. Marijuana is a gateway drug and to ignore that fact is at our own peril and the peril of our children.”

South Shore state Reps. Josh Cutler and James Cantwell organized the packed meeting in the House members’ lounge as the opening salvo of a bid to scuttle the momentum of proponents seeking to have Massachusetts join Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington in legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

Proponents have already cleared the initial hurdle by submitting well above the required 64,750 signatures in support of placing the question on the ballot. The Legislature has until May 2 to act on the petition from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. If lawmakers don’t act or vote down the measure, supporters must gather nearly 11,000 more signatures to place it on the ballot in November.

Even if the Legislature passes the initiative petition, Gov. Charlie Baker has promised to veto it, making a ballot showdown all but certain. The House recently held a hearing on a separate, but similar, bill from 15 members that would legalize the drug, but it’s unlikely to come up for a vote.

Both lawmakers and law enforcement officials said the biggest danger with legalizing the sale of marijuana is the marketing that they claim is geared toward children, with the use of eye-catching packaging as well as edible marijuana products such as gummy bears, lollipops, and salt water taffy. Some legislators pointed to the parallels with the tobacco industry, which has long been charged with aiming advertising at children.

An array of legal consumable marijuana products, including edibles, liquid, and smoking form.

An array of consumable marijuana products, including edibles, liquid, and smokeable forms, on display at Wednesday’s State House forum.

“It’s amazing how intertwined the tobacco and the marijuana industry are,” said state Rep. Carolyn Dykema of Holliston.

Jim Gerhardt, a Thornton, Colorado, police officer who is vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association and who travels the country to urge states not to follow Colorado’s lead, offered a sobering presentation that runs counter to claims that all is well in Centennial State, which became the first in 2012 to legalize personal possession and use of marijuana.

Gerhardt said passage of the referendum there was the result of a “well-organized campaign” that convinced voters marijuana was as benign as alcohol and tobacco, and that legalizing it would relieve law enforcement from chasing petty users as well as reduce the number of alcohol-related crimes.

“We have seen no evidence of that; all of our alcohol problems have remained exactly as they’ve been,” Gerhardt said. “In surveys about marijuana use, Colorado now has the highest use rate in every age category.”

Gerhardt relayed grisly stories of marijuana-intoxicated individuals committing gruesome suicides or even murders, dismissing claims by proponents that users tend to mellow out. Gerhardt ticked off a laundry list of negative impacts since legalization in his state, from an increase in marijuana-related suspensions and expulsions among school-aged children to a reported rise in veterinarians treating dogs for toxicosis caused by pets either inadvertently ingesting the pot or purposely being fed the drug by their owners.

Gerhardt also said the claim that legal marijuana would stuff state coffers with tax revenues is a myth. He said in the last fiscal year, legal recreation marijuana brought in $52.5 million in taxes while medical marijuana accounted for a little more than $10 million. He said that total is less than 1 percent of total tax revenues brought in by the state, hardly a game-changer. Colorado levies a 30 percent tax on recreational marijuana and a much lower burden on medical marijuana. The ballot question in Massachusetts would cap the tax at 12.5 percent for recreational sale while medical marijuana is tax-exempt.

When asked by a House staffer how to justify the fact that alcohol and tobacco are legal despite health concerns while marijuana isn’t, Gerhardt said it was a matter of public acceptance. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said. “We have a 2,000-year-old culture of embracing alcohol and hundreds of years of a culture of embracing tobacco use.”

Matt Gutwill, a Framingham police detective who has worked with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said it’s a myth to think law enforcement was spending time rounding up marijuana users and tossing them in jail. “I don’t ever remember putting someone away for simple possession,” he said.

Gutwill, who has been involved in drug enforcement since the turn of the century, says he also has a personal stake in examining the claims of beneficial uses of marijuana.

“I have two kids with cystic fibrosis,” he said. “I’m always reading the studies on drugs and what works. I would never give my kid a drug that hasn’t been brought to a case study.”

Near the end of the forum, two state senators who made a recent fact-finding trip to Colorado, Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester and Vinnie deMacedo of Plymouth, offered their takeaways. DeMacedo said with the changes already taking place in the Bay State that have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and legalized it for medical purposes, there is plenty of time to see how full legalization works out in the other states.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

“People are not going to jail and those who need medical marijuana are getting it,” said the first-term Republican. “Why are we jumping quickly into this?”

(Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated the tax on medical marijuana in Colorado.)

  • Brian Kelly

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

    • Brian Kelly

      There is absolutely no doubt now that the majority of Americans want to completely legalize marijuana nationwide. Our numbers grow on a daily basis.

      The prohibitionist view on marijuana is the viewpoint of a minority and rapidly shrinking percentage of Americans. It is based upon decades of lies and propaganda.

      Each and every tired old lie they have propagated has been thoroughly proven false by both science and society.

      Their tired old rhetoric no longer holds any validity. The vast majority of Americans have seen through the sham of marijuana prohibition in this day and age. The number of prohibitionists left shrinks on a daily basis.

      With their credibility shattered, and their not so hidden agendas visible to a much wiser public, what’s left for a marijuana prohibitionist to do?

      Maybe, just come to terms with the fact that Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think, and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide!…and Support All Marijuana Legalization Efforts!

      • Brian Kelly

        The “Gateway Myth” has been proven false over and over again. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

        If state Rep. Harold Naughton, House chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security really wants to protect families from a drug proven to destroy lives and families, then he should be up in arms, protesting the legality of booze.

        Alcohol is the drug that causes the most traffic fatalities and domestic violence by a huge landslide.
        More so than all other drugs, combined.

        Why doesn’t that concern Rep. Harold Naughton even more?

        “Marijuana Is Gateway Drug” Theory Debunked, Again
        http://www.opposingviews.com/i/marijuana-is-gateway-drug-theory-debunked-again

        Marijuana a “Gateway” Drug? Scientists Call Theory Half-Baked
        http://www.cbsnews.com/news/marijuana-a-gateway-drug-scientists-call-theory-half-baked/

        Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: The Myth That Will Not Die
        http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/29/marijuna-as-a-gateway-drug-the-myth-that-will-not-die/#ixzz2s5nDwiDS

        Seven Studies That Debunk the Gateway Myth
        http://inorml.com/blog/2012/11/25/seven-studies-that-debunk-the-gateway-myth/

        • Brian Kelly

          If I were them and worried so much about “saving all of us” adults from ourselves, under the guise of protecting “The Children”, well then, I’d begin with the deadliest drug, which causes more broken homes, domestic violence, and traffic fatalities than all other drugs, combined, which is alcohol.

          Yet alcohol remains perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised, even glorified as an All American pastime.

          Why doesn’t the much more prevalent, more widely abused, use of alcohol concern you prohibitionists much more than marijuana which is a relatively benign drug when compared to all other ones?

          Protesting the legality of booze should be your number one priority if you are truly so concerned about “saving us all” from ourselves.

          • Brian Kelly

            If prohibitionists really want to protect families from a drug proven to destroy lives and families, then they should be up in arms, protesting the legality of booze.

            Alcohol is the number one cause for traffic fatalities and domestic violence by a huge landslide.

            Alcohol is also infused into literally a ton of deserts and fruity drinks that “The Children” find appealing.

            Why doesn’t the much more harmful yet perfectly legal use of alcohol concern you prohibitionists more than relatively benign marijuana? It should.

            Regarding “The Children”,

            Let’s not use “The Children” as an excuse to prohibit and criminalize adult use of a natural plant far less dangerous than perfectly legal alcohol because nobody condones child use, and this is about allowing adults only to choose marijuana.

            It’s our responsibility as parents by to educate our children on drug use. It’s not the government’s job to force Draconian Marijuana Laws upon every adult citizen under the guise of protecting “The Children”.

            What message are we sending our children when it is easier for them to obtain marijuana now with it being illegal than it is for them to buy alcohol?

            It doesn’t take the intellect of a genius to understand that stores card kids for I.D. Thugs and gang members do not. They also push the real hard drugs on children. Stores do not.

            Marijuana legalization will make it harder for children to obtain it.

            What message does it send our children when the President of The United States himself alongside a long list of successful people openly admit regular pot use at one time or another in their lives?

            While we tell our kids how it will ruin their futures, and then ensure so, by allowing our government to to jail our children and give them permanent criminal records when they get caught with a little Marijuana. Especially, if they are the wrong skin color or from the “wrong neighborhood”. Which in turn, ruins their chances of employment for life.

            The Prohibition of Marijuana is the wrong message to send our children while we glorify, advertise and promote the much more dangerous use of alcohol like it’s an all American pastime.

            The worst thing about marijuana and our children is what happens to them when they get caught up in the criminal justice system due to it’s prohibition.

            Protect “The Children” and Our Neighborhoods Through The Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana Nationwide!

          • Brian Kelly

            The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

            Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

            The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

            Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

            Even The President of the United States has used marijuana. Has it hurt his chances at succeeding in life? If he had gotten caught by the police during his college years, he may have very well still been in prison today! Beyond that, he would then be fortunate to even be able to find a minimum wage job that would consider hiring him with a permanent criminal record. Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

            The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

            Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

            Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

          • Brian Kelly

            Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

            Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny, crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

            The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

            If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

            Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

            Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

          • Brian Kelly

            In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

            In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

            Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

            People who consume marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

            Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

            Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

            Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

            To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

            There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

            So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

            We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

            Has a marijuana consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

            Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

            Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

          • Brian Kelly

            “Smoking marijuana is 114 times safer than drinking alcohol”

            http://rt.com/usa/234903-marijuana-safer-alcohol-deadly/

            “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say”

            “Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead By Christopher Ingraham February 23

            Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

            Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.”

            http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/02/23/marijuana-may-be-even-safer-than-previously-thought-researchers-say/

            “The report discovered that marijuana is 114 times less deadly than alcohol. Researchers were able to determine this by comparing the lethal doses with the amount of typical use. Through this approach, marijuana had the lowest mortality risk to users out of all the drugs they studied. In fact—because the numbers were crossed with typical daily use—marijuana is the only drug that tested as “low risk.”

            http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2015/02/scientific-reports-weed-114-safer-alcohol

  • Jack B Nimble

    “Jim Gerhardt, a Thornton, Colorado, police officer who is vice president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association and who travels the country to urge states not to follow Colorado’s lead, offered a sobering presentation that runs counter to claims that all is well in Centennial State, which became the first in 2012 to legalize personal possession and use of marijuana.”

    What a surprise, a law enforcement representative whose livelihood depends upon keeping marijuana illegal…… wants to keep it illegal. I’m also a Colorado resident & this guy does nothing but lie about marijuana legalization in Colorado. Unintended consequences have been far below the level predicted by the prohibitionists. None of the “sky is falling” effects they predicted have occurred. Sad that the Massachusetts state legislature needs to bring someone like this in to speak with them. He covers them with lies that just reinforce their predetermined beliefs, like the gateway theory. These legislators quite obviously know nothing about marijuana and revel in their ignorance. They can’t stop the legalization train….. so they lie. Funny how facts & reality mean nothing to them.

  • Rob Shaffer

    Jim Gerhardt is part of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area agency. This is a federal agency funded by the DEA and other agencies. Jim Gerhardt travels the country speaking out against legalization because he IS A LOBBYIST. He claims he is not a lobbyist but rather an officer of the law sharing educational information. Nothing could be further from the truth. The federal government cannot legally fund lobbyists so by claiming to be a law officer simply providing educational facts he can avoid the label of lobbyist.
    The agency Jim Gerhardt represents writes their own reports and then travels around and presents these reports as factual statistics. THEY ARE NOT FACTUAL reports. His group freely admits the reports are largely based on ‘the opinions’ of other drug war soldier agencies.
    In other words a bunch of drug war soldier agencies polled on another, assembled their opinion into a report and then pretended the report was based on proven statistical facts.
    They are known liars, twisters of facts and manipulators of data. LOBBYISTS is what these people are, not law enforcement as people would have you believe.
    It is well known within the state of Colorado that these people hate legalization and will stoop to any level to try and roll it back and poison efforts in other states. These people have an agenda and they do not tell the truth.
    Supposedly Neutral Federal Report Stacks The Deck Against Marijuana Legalization
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2015/09/17/supposedly-neutral-federal-report-stacks-the-deck-against-marijuana-legalization/#18a4a64953ac

  • BostonNewswire

    A “gateway drug”??? Anyone who says that is ignorant or just lying.

    It’s important to note that so long as marijuana is illegal, people naturally go to people who traffic in illegal substances to get it. Thus they are frequently doing business with people – who, if they sell harder, addictive drugs – have a business interest in getting people who consume relatively low priced, non-addictive marijuana to indulge in a substance with a more reliable return, such as prescription opioids or heroin. “Correlation does not equal causation,” wrote Miriam Boeri in Newsweek.

    When analyzing what acts as a “gateway” to hard drug use, there are a number of factors at play. None involve marijuana.

    Poverty and poor social environment is a gateway to drugs, according to much research. Association with people who use hard drugs is a better predictor of harder drug use. Certain mental illnesses, such as antisocial personality and bipolar disorder, are found to predispose some people to use drugs.

    Other research notes that criminalization and prohibition are real gateways to harder drugs. Based upon accepted research, both nicotine and alcohol are better predictors of subsequent hard drug use, ergo, gateway drugs. That being the case, Mayor Walsh should be targeting nicotine and tobacco rather than marijuana if he is genuinely concerned about gateways to hard drug use.

    Anyone who is shilling for junkies and then calling pot a gateway drug, is creating a situation where everyone who tries pot will have to buy it from someone who is potentially selling Oxy, heroin, Fentonil or whatever else.

    Maybe that’s what the opponents of legal marijuana want – more junkies they can save on the taxpayer dime. Take pot away from drug dealers and not only do we tax it, take the profit away from criminals, but we also remove pot as something that dealers use to get people to try harder drugs.