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Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana

Seeing recreational marijuana come to fruition in Massachusetts is like watching the actors in Luis Bunuel’s movie The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie repeatedly walking along the same road without reaching any destination.

In 2016, Massachusetts residents voted overwhelmingly for the ballot initiative—Question 4—to  make marijuana available for recreational use to those 18 years old and older. Medical marijuana had already become available. The ballot question won by over 53% of the vote, and then the state and some local governments began throwing roadblocks in the way of implementing the will of the people. They began adding members to the state Cannabis Control Commission, increased taxes on the future sales of marijuana, and the legislature voted to delay the beginning of sales from January 1, 2018 until July 1, 2018. When I spoke to representatives from two medical marijuana dispensaries, the earliest that one person guessed that recreational sales would begin was at least not until sometime in the middle of August 2018. Talk about thwarting the will of the people! Town after town and city after city in Massachusetts have thrown up obstacles for hosting marijuana dispensaries within their city and town borders. A casual observer might think that some kind of new and dangerous poison had become popular and needs to be kept away from people.

Nine states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized recreational marijuana. For two years running, I have gotten up at the town meeting in the community where I live to speak in favor of both medical and recreational marijuana sales and readers might think that I was arguing to establish an open-air atomic testing facility from the reaction I received from town officials, although Question 4 passed by a tremendous majority of voters here.  And this is in so-called liberal Massachusetts.

Following the Mexican Revolution of 1910, there was an influx of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. Some immigrants smoked marijuana, just like some people in the larger population drank alcohol.

“It was clear the newspapers and tabloids were building a campaign against the plant [marijuana], and much of it has been said to be based on racist ideologies against Mexican immigrants (“The real reason marijuana is illegal in the United States,” Salon, July 2, 2015). Sound familiar?

In 1936, the anti-marijuana film Reefer Madness had its debut, as the vast majority of states banned marijuana use. The film was originally bankrolled by a church group as a morality film and later was spoofed by the counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1952 and 1956, Congress passed legislation making prison sentences mandatory for drug crimes and by the time Nixon became president, minimum sentences began to be imposed in the war on drugs (Salon, 2015). From then on it was a series of stricter and stricter anti-drug laws with stiff mandatory prison sentences at both the state and federal level.

The “Great Communicator” Reagan’s war on drugs (remember “Just say no!”) led to skyrocketing prison populations that went from “150 people in prison per 100,000” to “just over 700 per 100,000” (Salon, 2015). The prison-industrial complex was well on its way to being complete.

Objectionable stereotypes of people (and penalties for) of color using marijuana and the growth of recreational drug use among the generation of baby boomers during the 1960s probably fueled the anti-drug hysteria to the level of the upper stratosphere. The present attorney general of the United States, Jeffrey Sessions, once said that “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” (“Why Jeff Sessions’s marijuana crackdown is going to make legalization more likely,” Washington Post, January 5, 2018). And this also from the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S.: Of the Ku Klux Klan, “I thought those guys were okay until I learned they smoked pot” (Washington Post, 2018).

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2016, but I saw no mass of protesters or police in front of a liquor store where I recently went to purchase a bottle of wine, and I recently saw no protest outside of a local hospital demanding action to combat alcohol-related diseases.

Alcohol driving-related deaths each year are dwarfed by the opioid epidemic with two-thirds of the 63,632 drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2016 attributed to opioids according to the CDC. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually…” Now that’s the real madness!

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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