In one of my High Holy Day sermons this year, I explained my support for Massachusetts Ballot Question #3, which would prohibit certain methods of farm animal containment, a measure fully in consonance with Judaism’s command that we not inflict unnecessary suffering on animals.
In that same sermon I made passing reference to my support for Ballot Question #4, which would legalize recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old. I want to take this opportunity to articulate my reasons for supporting this ballot initiative.
I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was when I entered college, in 1971, that I first experimented with “soft” drugs: marijuana, Quaaludes, LSD. I was an experimenter, never a regular user, but I am glad for my exposure to those substances and those experiences. For me, they were part of the process of maturization, of learning to make decisions on my own about what was in my best interests.
Fast forward to 2016, the year in which I read Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari, an eye-opening account of the tremendous and unnecessary toll that the criminalization of drug-use has taken on our society and our world. It lifts up for examination, and shatters, many an assumption about the nature of addiction, U.S. federal drug policy, and the ever-increasing price we pay for treating drug-use as a justice issue and not a public-health issue.
The increasing number of states authorizing the medical use of marijuana is encouraging, even if Massachusetts is dragging its feet in establishing an appropriate number of dispensaries. I know, personally, a number of people whose lives are made easier and whose suffering is diminished, through their use of marijuana.
Ballot Question #4 has a broader goal: the legalization of marijuana for purchase and consumption by adults over 21. Massachusetts would join Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. in adopting such a policy. What has been learned from the experiences of those other localities?
Here are some facts worth noting:
• Marijuana arrests have plummeted in the states that legalized marijuana, although disproportionate enforcement of marijuana crimes against black people continues.
• Statewide surveys of youth in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon found that there were no significant increases in youth marijuana use post-legalization.
• Tax revenues in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have all exceeded initial revenue estimates, totaling $552 million.
• Legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions, as traffic fatality rates have remained stable in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon.
• Prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Many of these overdoses are related to the increasing number of people taking opiate-based medications for pain related conditions. Marijuana has been shown as an effective treatment for pain, and has a better safety profile than opiates with less risk for dependence and no risk of fatal overdose. States that have passed medical marijuana laws have seen a decrease in opiate related mortality, and medical marijuana patients are claiming that the use of marijuana as a substitute for opiates is resulting in relief without the worries about dependence.
[Source: http://www.drugpolicy.org ]
One of the more compelling reasons to legalize marijuana is to remove it from the hands of criminal enterprises, thereby reducing and helping to eliminate the violent crime to which that illicit drug trade gives rise. Our nation’s experience with Prohibition offers stark evidence that the legalization of substances that people will use, whether legal or not (i.e. alcohol and tobacco), is a far better option for society than prohibition. Moreover, the harm done by alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legally consumed, is well-established and substantial. The harm associated with marijuana use is, largely, anecdotal and pales by comparison with that of alcohol and tobacco.
There are certainly legitimate questions about the implementation of marijuana legalization, if the ballot question passes. But those questions and practices will be left to the legislature to craft, just has been done in other localities, to best address the needs of our Commonwealth. I urge you to make the time to research this topic for yourselves and to bring the knowledge you gain with you into the voting booth on November 8th.