On Beacon Hill: Question 4 to legalize marijuana sparks down-to-the-wire debate — an Election Day primer

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • Legal marijuana opponents paint bleak, dangerous future for kids
  • Doctors who roll with Question 4 seek to normalize pot, offer clinical assistance
  • Videos from both sides, including AG Healey’s impassioned ‘No’
  • Journal study links legal pot to reduced opioid use
  • Petty joins coalition of mayors in Question 4 stance — find out his vote
  • Baker eschews early voting, taking it all in until Election Day

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TOP OF THE HILL

Question 4 opponents, including Healey, warn of ‘profits over people’

BOSTON — Opponents of the ballot question to legalize retail marijuana sales in Massachusetts have conjured a possible future where a “Cannabis” sign towers above a strip mall and a marijuana store advertises its wares — pink candies and a jar of high-potency marijuana — in the window next to a toy store.

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who would be responsible for appointing all three members of the Cannabis Control Commission if the question passes, said it’s too soon to say whether the regulated marijuana market would look like the version presented by Question 4 opponents in a controversial television ad.

“I couldn’t speculate on that right now. I mean, there’s a lot to come,” Goldberg, an opponent of the ballot referendum, said last week. “And candidly, that’s the reason why I felt that the timeline was too short.”


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If Question 4 passes, Goldberg, a longtime Democratic activist, would need to appoint the cannabis control commissioner and two associate commissioners by March 1, with no more than two commissioners coming from the same political party.

The ballot question would require the newly formed commission to begin accepting retail license applications from established medical marijuana dispensaries by Oct. 1, 2017. By Oct. 1, 2018, the commission would need to begin accepting marijuana retail licenses from others hoping to sell the drug and its associated products.

“There are enormous number of things to deal with, with no startup costs to even get the commission going, so the timeline is really tight,” Goldberg said.

A Brookline Democrat whose family ran the Stop and Shop supermarket chain, Goldberg said empowering the Cannabis Control Commission to ban edible marijuana products would be part of the discussion around amending the referendum language.

“I think that will be part of the legislative process. I don’t think that will come from the Cannabis Control Commission,” she said.

Maura Healey is strongly against Question 4.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Maura Healey is strongly against Question 4.

On Thursday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey and representatives for hospitals, physicians and a professional nursing association argued against the ballot question, claiming it would increase emergency room visits for ingesting marijuana and unleash corporate advertising aimed at turning the public on to pot.

“I’m reminded of Big Tobacco. Their first job — make no mistake about it — is to make money. They will always put profits over people,” Healey said.

Public polls indicate Mass. voters are inclined to approve the question, despite overwhelming opposition from the state’s political establishment. The attorney general said voters should not put their faith in the Legislature to fix perceived problems with the language of the referendum.

[Story continues after videos.]


VIDEOS OF THE WEEK

AG Healey is a big ‘No’ on Question 4

Yes on 4 responds to Healey

Physicians for 4 tout benefits of legalization


Will Luzier, campaign manager for the ballot initiative, claimed the cannabis commission would be able to regulate the potency of marijuana products based on the power the referendum would grant it to control for the health and safety of marijuana products. He said the commission would not be able to ban edible products outright.

Luzier said there is “some suggestion” that emergency room visits increased in Colorado, which legalized the drug, but attributed that to out-of-state visitors who are “not familiar with how to use edibles.” He said the Rocky Mountain State has an education program available at marijuana dispensaries to ease the public into safe consumption.

While edible products have been a flashpoint for Ballot Question 4 opponents who argue they would lead to over-consumption and appeal to youth, less attention has been directed toward some of the Cannabis Control Commission’s other powers.

The commission could choose to issue licenses for on-premises consumption of marijuana, and licenses “that authorize the consumption of marijuana at special events in limited areas,” as well as research licenses.

The much-discussed television ad by the opponents of the question shows a marijuana store next to a toy store in a strip mall.

The commission would have the power to regulate packaging requirements to prevent children from ingesting the drug, issue labeling requirements, and set “reasonable restrictions on signs, marketing, displays and advertising.”

Goldberg suggested she would favor a regulatory environment more similar to Washington state than Colorado.

“There’s one model, which is Colorado, and then there’s another model, which is Washington state. Washington state has done a greater job in controlling windows and products and the like. What Colorado is seeing is that they’re looking to Washington state because they’ve had some problems with their retailers,” Goldberg said.

“Our folks have talked to, gone to, and studied all of the above. And so we will be working with leadership on addressing all of the issues, and that’s just one of them,” she said.

— Andy Metzger


Doctors backing Question 4 say ‘current system isn’t working’

BOSTON — Exactly 24 hours after a group of medical professionals stood on the State House steps to warn of the dangers of legalizing marijuana, a group of doctors stood in the same spot to explain why they support making marijuana legal for adults to use.

Dr. J Wesley Boyd, a psychiatrist, joined other physicians Nov. 4 to highlight why they support legalizing marijuana for adult use a day after health experts encouraged voters to reject the ballot question.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Dr. J Wesley Boyd, a psychiatrist, joined other physicians Nov. 4 to highlight why they support legalizing marijuana for adult use a day after health experts encouraged voters to reject the ballot question.

The prohibition on marijuana has created a negative stigma around its use, and makes patients and their doctors feel like it is something they are not safe discussing, Dr. Susan Lucas said.

“The current system isn’t working, they’re getting it from the street. It could be filled with pesticides, it could be laced with fentanyl. They should be able to get it in a safe place … not from the street,” Lucas, an internist, said. “We can open up a forum with them to discuss the recreational use. Are they using it in a safe way? Are they getting it in a safe place?”

Lucas said that if voters pass Question 4, it will “enable open and honest discussions about recreational marijuana use, just as cigarette and alcohol use is openly discussed with patients at almost every visit.”

Alcohol and tobacco, Dr. J. Wesley Boyd said, “are, by far, much more harmful than marijuana.”

Whether marijuana is safe to use, Boyd said, “entirely depends on the person.” He said he is “well-aware of potential dangers of marijuana, especially on developing brains” and said it is not safe to use marijuana before driving or in other situations.

“If someone is using marijuana a little bit in the evenings after work is done, when the responsibilities are over, in those situations I think marijuana is probably potentially completely safe … if their brain is finished developing,” said Boyd, an associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a staff psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance. “In my estimation it is safer than alcohol.”

Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard Med School-trained emergency physician who now specializes in what he called “cannabis therapeutics,” said the worry that legalizing marijuana will lead to a rise in medical costs and emergency room visits is a legitimate concern, but is being overblown by Question 4 opponents.

“As somebody who works in an emergency room, I see huge devastation by alcohol and other drugs and yet never, ever have seen anybody sick from cannabis. Never,” he said. “This enormous influx that we’re worrying about is not likely to happen.”

For Dr. Michael Olstein, who retired last year after a 50-year career, legalizing marijuana is important because it would allow for more research of the medical benefits of cannabis, which he said include the “possibility of anti-cancer activity.”

Marijuana is used by patients to treat several maladies, including pain associated with end-stage cancer.

Flickr

Marijuana is used by patients to treat several maladies, including pain associated with end-stage cancer.

Prohibition “restricts our ability to find significant uses for this naturally-occurring plant — not a chemical, but something that nature provides — and we know that this has significant positive effects,” Olstein said. “We know that there are children who have epilepsy who are helped by this, we know that this is something that stimulates appetite, that reduces stress. There is a potential for a great deal of good that research in marijuana can provide.”

Public opinion polls have shown the state’s electorate is inclined to support Question 4, despite the staunch opposition of high-ranking elected officials in the state, including Healey, Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

— Colin A. Young


Opioid use down in medical marijuana states, says health journal study

Press release from Yes on 4

States with functioning medical marijuana systems show significant drops in individuals between the ages of 21 and 40 testing positive for opioid use, according to a new study in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).

The study, conducted by researchers from Columbia University and the University of California at Davis, surveyed results of toxicology tests for drivers from 18 states between 1999 and 2013, and compared the data among states with and without operational medical marijuana laws (MMLs). In states with MMLs, the study showed a significant reduction in opioid presence in subjects between the ages of 21 and 40.

“Our findings among those aged 21 to 40 years [old] are consistent with previous findings that MMLs are associated with a 25 percent reduction in the annual rate of opioid overdose and that states permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a slight decrease in opioid treatment admissions and in opioid overdose mortality,” the study authors wrote.

Minimum-age requirements restrict access to medical marijuana for most patients younger than 21 years, and most surveyed medical marijuana patients are younger than 45 years old, the study noted. “Although the uptake of medical marijuana has been historically concentrated among young adults, we would expect to see similar reductions in opioid use among older cohorts if medical marijuana is increasingly embraced by older generations,” the authors wrote.

In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) issued a study showing a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose rates in states with functioning medical marijuana systems.

Yes on 4 Director of Communications Jim Borghesani said the new study exposes the false assertions of Question 4 opponents who claim that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana would exacerbate the state’s opioid epidemic.

“Our opponents’ statements and claims are completely unsupported by data or studies. We are confident that voters will see through their reckless scare tactics that serve to stigmatize marijuana as an unacceptable substitute for opioids,” Borghesani said. “The AJPH and JAMA studies tell the real story of legal marijuana’s impact on opioid use.”


Petty among 11 mayors calling for ‘No’ vote on Question 4

Press release from Campaign for a Safe & Healthy Massachusetts

A broad coalition of Massachusetts mayors, representing urban and suburban communities across the Commonwealth, stated their opposition to Question 4 and urged voters to reject the ballot question. The list includes Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty.

Mayor Petty

Topix.com

Mayor Petty

In a statement issued Friday, Nov. 4, the mayoral group outlined the negative impact Question 4 will have on local communities, public safety and the health of families and children. They state their belief that Question 4 is stacked to benefit the marijuana industry, and takes control away from cities and towns.

Mayors who joined Petty in signing the statement are: Joseph Sullivan, Braintree; Scott Galvin, Woburn; Bill Carpenter, Brockton; Mark Hawke, Gardner; Thomas Koch, Quincy; Rob Dolan, Melrose; John Mitchell, New Bedford; Dan Rivera, Lawrence; Kim Driscoll, Salem; and Robert Hedlund, Weymouth.

From the  joint statement:

“Question 4 will dramatically and negatively change the landscape of our communities. In Colorado right now, there are more marijuana businesses than there are Dunkin’ Donuts in Massachusetts. People need to understand that if you pass Question 4, there will likely be a pot shop in or near your own neighborhood, and the ability of cities and towns to restrict those shops is very limited.

“We also know that the marijuana industry has targeted some of the poorest neighborhoods, and that racial disparities have only been exacerbated in Colorado after legalization. …

“Finally, we know Question 4 will negatively impact public safety. Based on the experience of other states, we know the number of drugged driving tragedies in Massachusetts will increase and a new black market will be created in our neighborhoods.

“We understand that people may support the concept of legalization, but Question 4 is not a concept. Question 4 is a specific proposal stacked to benefit the marijuana industry that will harm too many families, kids, and communities. We urge you to reject this proposal and take Massachusetts off this risky path.”


IN THE NEWS

Baker wants to ‘see the whole show,’ plans to vote on Election Day

The state’s foray into early voting has garnered positive feedback from voters who appreciate the convenience of it, but Gov. Charlie Baker said late last week he wants to wait until the end of the bitter campaign season to cast his ballot.

“I’m one of these guys that likes to read the whole book before I make my decision,” the governor told WBZ NewsRadio’s Joe Mathieu.

Gov. Charlie Baker

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Early voting began Oct. 24 and ended Friday, Nov. 4. Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office said Nov. 2 about 700,000 voters had already voted — roughly 22 percent of the total turnout in the 2012 presidential election.

Baker said on WBZ NewsRadio that he had just had a coffee shop conversation with a voter who extolled the virtues of early voting.

“I do think this will probably make Election Day a little less hectic and a little less crazy,” Baker said. “My only fear about this, and to each his own, is stuff comes out in the last few weeks in an election. I don’t know if that would be enough to change anybody’s point of view with respect to what they would do anyway.”

Baker has said he will not vote for his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, nor will he cast a ballot for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The governor has been active in the ballot-question campaigns to lift the cap on charter schools, prevent the legalization of marijuana and elect more Republicans to the state Legislature.

— Colin A. Young

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