Testimony by Daniel Bolton, LMHC to the Joint Commission on Marijuana Policy

Testimony by Daniel Bolton, LMHC to the Joint Commission on Marijuana Policy
April 3, 2017

Dear Honorable Chairs Jehlen and Cusack, and Honorable members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I genuinely feel your invitation to hold these public hearings has helped encourage a large number of people to begin to be honest about how they use cannabis now that it is not illegal to use and they have once again been validated with the reassurance that they no longer have to worry about legal repercussions for possession or use with the passage of Question 4.

My name is Daniel Bolton. I am licensed by the state of Massachusetts to work independently in the profession of Mental Health Counseling. I have been practicing as a LMHC for the last decade, since 2007, and five years before that was performing these same services under the supervision of a licensed professional before completing all of the requirements for licensure. That is a total of 15 years working individually with teenagers in our communities in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, and I have been in good standing during that entire period to the present.

I am here today to share both my personal and professional experience so that it may shed some light in this debate and help guide us in a constructive direction toward achieving our shared goals. There is a lot at stake here, but I believe there are enough common goals that we can implement legalization that would be a win-win for all sides if we use common sense and refer to the facts that are available to us. Unfortunately, given some of what has been proposed we are at risk of altering Question 4 in a way that ensures our shared goals, like drying up the black market and educating teenagers effectively, will not be something we get to see realized. If we do not implement this correctly the black market will continue to thrive and our teenagers will continue to have the access to cannabis that many here proposing significant changes to Question 4 say they are most concerned about. We have to reckon with these realities.

A nationwide survey conducted in 2008 on teen use showed self-report from teens stating that 85% of teens say it is “fairly easy” or “very “easy” to obtain marijuana.

A more recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has some startling results about teens and drugs.
In their study, they found that 40 percent of teens could get marijuana within a day; another quarter said they could get it within an hour. In another portion of the survey, teens between the ages of 12 and 17 say it’s easier to get marijuana than buy cigarettes**, beer or prescription drugs. That number is up 37 percent from 2007. (http://www.centeronaddiction.org/newsroom/press-releases/2009-teen-survey-xiv or visit CASAColumbia.org)

Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed: In the period covered between 2002-2014 Among persons aged ≥12 years, the percentage reporting that marijuana was fairly easy or very easy to obtain increased (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6511a1.htm). This is in conjunction with teen use remaining flat or being down in Colorado, and marijuana being illegal in most states across the nation. Kids are getting marijuana from the black market and they will continue to do so as long as we ignore the statistics and science that is available to us, or allowing people with a moral agenda to twist these facts to fit their argument.

If we can effectively undercut the illicit black market for marijuana, we can take away the avenue that most teenagers with drug offenses are charged for and then lose 3 years of their life during the prime years of their education.

In support of my above point, while working in Dorchester, I saw kids arrested and imprisoned for up to 3 years. Every teenager I saw during my time working with them in counseling said they had tried marijuana and that it was easy for them to get. They stated, explicitly, time and time again, that it was easier for them to obtain marijuana than it was alcohol or even cigarettes. So, essentially, my professional experience continues to drive this point home. A person of color I knew who grew up in Boston, over 20 years ago received the same sentence, and still to this day his life is impacted by that non-violent drug felony. I can only imagine the societal impact if the kids I worked with who encountered legal problems around marijuana suffer a similar fate.

I share these details because I want to make clear that these issues are not just theoretical, they are real. These are real people being affected by our policies, and if we do not implement this law in an effective way we’ll continue to see lives deeply harmed and kids both buying and selling off of the black market.

I am in a unique position, being a transplant here in Massachusetts from California. Growing up during the early ’80’s in California my school forced me to go to these Nancy Reagan rallies when I was in 1st grade. I bring this up because we are now facing calls by our current Attorney General of the United States to bring back, in eerie fashion, a 35 year old motto. I recall vividly at the time it being such a confusing experience, chanting “Just say no!” Even at 7 years old I thought the whole thing was very bizarre. And obviously it ultimately did not work, as I will explain below.

I knew dozens of people growing up in California that used cannabis in high school, some even in middle school. My sister used cannabis throughout high school and she has a Ph.D. I was super militant against marijuana when I was in high school. But after my girlfriend and I were about to break up over the fact that she smoked marijuana sometimes, I decided to try to understand why she believed what she did about marijuana. The fact that we, through our individual life experiences, had come to such different conclusions on the exact same subject gave me pause and made me we willing to open my mind. More importantly I loved her very dearly, and I was willing to challenge my own beliefs if someone I loved told me that what I believed was not the truth, and our relationship could have ended for that. Since that day I’ve used cannabis intermittently throughout my life, and I’m doing ok handling quite a heavy load.

The point is that there are a lot of experiences and outcomes many people, a much higher statistical frequency than many professionals who testified here are claiming, who don’t experience these negative outcomes. Those people have remained silent out of fear that they’d be judged, looked down upon, or fired from their job. The medical professionals who are citing research aren’t telling you the whole truth. Often their perceptions are skewed by the fact that they work exclusively with patients who suffer from addiction, giving them only very selective data relative to a small percentage of the population.

I’m not here to spread hyperbole in the other direction and say cannabis is all positive. There is data that is important and significant. There are relevant facts that we should be sharing with our teens. The way we speak to our teenagers is integral, and if we continue to engage in fear mongering and hyperbole, we will lose their attention and frankly their respect. Our common goals will be lost.

If this legislative process continues to undermine the spirit and letter of the law Question 4 was written in, we risk failing at these shared goals we have. People keep arguing, “Let’s do it for the kids!” Well, the way this is written is for the kids. It begins a process of making it more difficult for teens to obtain cannabis. It makes it more difficult for people operating in the black market to persuade the teens in our communities from selling cannabis to make easy money, which places them in potentially dangerous situations.

This ballot initiative that the people voted into law was put together from data collected by reputable professionals specializing in this area. Harm reduction is a concept that is supported by the research guiding the principles upon which Question 4 was written, and I am asking that we be very cautious in making changes to the law, if any, due to this fact.