Pot opponents hit ‘Big Marijuana’

Critics of legal marijuana focus on commercialization as the evil behind the question

OPPONENTS OF THE BALLOT QUESTION to legalize adult use of pot are pivoting their focus away from the dangers of the drug and taking aim at “Big Marijuana,” the burgeoning industry they say is behind the referendum.

Sen. Jason Lewis, who is one of the legislative leaders of the effort to defeat Question 4, says he and others don’t necessarily have an issue with “consenting adults” using marijuana in the privacy of their own homes and could support a bill to allow the non-commercial sale and possession.

But, he said, the current question was crafted by the billion-dollar marijuana industry to maximize profits and will lead to the kind of advertising aimed at youths that tobacco and alcohol manufacturers have used for years to entice a new generation of users.

“You can support legalization in concept and at the same time believe that Question 4’s plan to commercialize marijuana is the wrong path for our kids and our community,” said Lewis, pointing to posters displaying advertising from other states where marijuana is legal. “If the voters pass Question 4, your children, your teenagers, will see pot edibles and other marijuana products promoted, advertised, and marketed in our communities.”

While Lewis and others have broached the financial aspect of the proposed law in the past, critics of the question are increasingly focusing more and more on how pot businesses could push products into the mainstream with no regard for public safety or welfare.

With polling showing a slight majority in favor of the referendum, ominous predictions about drugged drivers and the effect of legal pot in a growing opioid crisis have not had the impact opponents had hoped. They believe that throwing the spotlight on big-money backers who will reap hundreds of millions in profits while looking to entice young people ( as tobacco companies did for years) will make voters pause to think about the impact of the measure.

“It’s not about whether a consenting adult can smoke a joint in his or her home,” said Lewis, who led a legislative delegation on a visit to Colorado earlier this year to study the impact of legalized use. “People do that already and no one bothers them. Big marijuana is following the same path the tobacco industry has taken. If we let the genie out of the bottle, there’s no going back.”

While Lewis insists the 24-page referendum was drawn up by industry officials to benefit their wallets, proponents say that’s nonsense. Jim Borghesani, communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign, said in a debate with Lewis on Tuesday that he was in the room when the referendum was drafted and the people there were residents and advocates who used a unsuccessful legislative bill as their template.

“That’s just nonsense,” Borghesani said, dismissing the charge of so-called “Big Marijuana.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

Lewis also left open the door for the Legislature to take the matter up if the question is rejected, despite the fact lawmakers have failed to act on a number of bills offered in the House and Senate. But he also said, should voters approve the question, it’s doubtful legislators would overturn the measure, despite a record of them doing just that in the past with campaign finance reforms and income tax reduction questions that voters approved.

“It would be inconceivable to me that the Legislature would try to repeal something like this,” said Lewis. “Nobody should count on that… If after they learn what this is all about and the voters of Massachusetts still decide this is the best path forward for Massachusetts, then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”