Dear Editor,
Thanks to the Daily Times Chronicle for coverage of Question 4 that will regulate the adult market for cannabis.
Twice now I’ve seen indications of misunderstandings concerning Question 4 printed in the DTC.
First in the front-page article, “Legalizing marijuana – MHA reiterates strong opposition to Question #4” (10/4/2016, page 1). MHA president and CEO Lynn Nicholas is quoted saying, “…news coming out of a few states that have legalized – such as Colorado and Washington state – is troubling.”
Professor Jeffery Miron, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Dean of the Undergraduate School of Economics at Harvard University conducted a statistical analysis of the effects of legalization in the four states that have it. Marijuana and alcohol use rate remained steady. Emergency room admissions in Colorado declined. Crime rates remained stable. School suspensions and test scores were stable. Home prices and unemployment followed national trends. Dr. Miron concludes, “The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.”
MHA is attributed as believing, “Question 4 will authorize the promotion and sale of highly potent, unregulated marijuana edibles.” This is absolutely not true. Cannabis edibles will be carefully regulated with many laws about the promotion, packaging and potency of edibles.
The MHA expresses concern that people will drive while high. The prohibition of cannabis is completely ineffective and anyone who wants cannabis can easily get it despite the prohibition, which means people are driving while high regardless of whether we have a regulated adult market for cannabis or not. The idea that more people will drive high is not supported by the statistical analysis referred to above that shows use rates remaining stable.
Also, driving while high is very different than driving while drunk. As the National Highway Transportation Agency found, “Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence THC’s (the psycho active ingredient in marijuana) adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”
MHA complains there is no breathalyzer test for cannabis. The idea that we will be able to test drivers for drugs is not realistic. Bad drivers could be under the influence of many, many different intoxicants. A policy that leads us to test for a long and ever growing list of intoxicating drugs is not reasonable. We test drivers for impairment now and impairment, not body chemistry, should be the measure of a competent or incompetent driver.
MHA’s concerns about emergency room admissions rising as a result of the passage of Question 4 are not based on reality. Emergency room admissions have remained stable in states that have regulated cannabis and have dropped slightly in Colorado. The fact is that cannabis is very, very safe. Dr. Lester Grinspoon, retired from Harvard Medical School, says it’s the safest pharmaceutical or recreational drug and DEA Law Judge Francis Young said, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.”
The prestigious British medical journal Lancet studied whether regulation of cannabis led to more youths using it and found, “Concerns that increased marijuana use are an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded.” The MHA, for some reason, believes the opposite to be true.
Though MHA is concerned we will lose productivity and “…on the job sharpness…”, those concerns are not backed by the statistics Dr. Miron studied.
MHA is worried that Question 4 will, “Allow people to grow thousands of dollars worth of marijuana plants within their homes – fostering an entirely new black market in the state.” MHA seems to be unaware both that medical cannabis patients are already allowed to grow marijuana and that home growing cannabis is already widespread despite the prohibition. We are about to solve the problem of prohibition-era cannabis pricing MHA complains about and allowing home growth is a big part of that solution. When people in general can produce cannabis for free (the cost of dirt, sunlight and rain) and give-away small amounts, the commercial value of cannabis will plummet, as it has in Colorado. This will, eventually, pull the plug on the black market cannabis money game.
Lastly MHA postulates that Question 4 will, “…yield public health consequences and challenges to the resources of our health care system.” Consequences? Certainly. Challenges? Hardly likely. The consequences are more likely reduced use of health care resources and fewer challenges. In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health the conclusion was reached that, “However, legalization was associated with a 10.8% (95% confidence interval [CI] = −17.1%, −3.7%) and 9.4% (95% CI = −16.1%, −2.4%) reduction in the suicide rate of men aged 20 through 29 years and 30 through 39 years,” and the journal HealthAffairs published a study that concluded, “National overall reductions in Medicare program and enrollee spending when states implemented medical marijuana laws were estimated to be $165.2 million per year in 2013.” These reductions found under medical cannabis would likely be amplified with regulation, particularly in states with dysfunctional medical cannabis programs, like Massachusetts.
The second set of misunderstandings were printed in your editorial, “Ballot Questions: Just say ‘No'” (10/28/2016, page A4). Therein it is said that rather than act, we should, “…wait and see.” Perhaps DTC editors don’t know. We have been waiting and seeing for decades. If it were left to our “lawmakers”, who in this case abrogated their responsibility to represent their constituents and write laws,we would not have decriminalization, we would not have medical cannabis and we would likely never have regulated adult use(but we haven’t regulated adult use yet). For over 20 years a bill to regulate adult use of cannabis was shelved by legislators without the skill, brains, caring or understanding to properly regulate cannabis.
DTC asks, “Would we really eliminate drug dealers?” No, of course not and no supporter of Question 4 makes or has made a claim it would. Clearly heroin and cocaine will remain black market drugs. We will, however, eliminate one of their favorite markets – the cannabis market. Anyone with even the most basic understanding of economics will realize that once people are free to grow marijuana on their own and give small amounts to others, the profits from selling marijuana are vastly depleted.
The DTC editorial asks, “Would we open new markets for (drug dealers) with heroin, and all the opiates, not to mention cookies for the kiddies that have marijuana in them.” I’m not sure what is meant by “opening new markets”, but either way, the answer is no. The presumption is that drugs are not sold to children under the current prohibition and that is clearly false. Those people selling “heroin, and all the opiates” will lose a market, the cannabis market, and will not “open new markets” as a result. There is no evidence that sales of other black-market drugs have risen in states that have regulated adult use and such a rise would be counter intuitive.
DTC asks would Question 4 drive children to drug dealers because it allows children to have cannabis edibles. Question 4 does not allow children to have cannabis edibles. In fact, cannabis edibles will be very strictly regulated. Their question implies that you and I will be too casual about allowing access to children. Candies are made with alcohol and with amphetamine by their industries – alcohol and pharmaceutical. Many home owners have guns. My sister was poisoned as a child by mothballs. Parents have to be very careful to watch what children put in their mouths and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with cannabis. A child who accidentally ingests cannabis will recover within a few hours with no lasting deleterious effects (not that they should be allowed access to cannabis).
The idea that cannabis use somehow creates a desire for heroin is one we hear politicians spew, but science threw-out the “Gateway Theory” decades ago. That theory depends on correlation (like heroin users all smoked marijuana), but lacks any support as a causation of hard drug use. The only way marijuana use and hard drug use are related is through the prohibition itself. Drug dealers use cannabis as a low-cost, relatively innocuous starter product. The higher profit-margin dealers get selling hard drugs makes dealers become pushers. Without cannabis, pushers will lose that starter product.
The DTC expresses concern over there being, “…more buzzed drivers on the road”. As stated above, “The idea that more people will drive high is not supported by the statistical analysis referred to above that shows use rates remaining stable,” and the US government tells us, “THC’s (the psycho active ingredient in marijuana) adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”
DTC suggests Question 4 will lead to, “…bad behavior in domestic relations…”. While we see many examples of this with alcohol, it has never shown to be a problem with cannabis. DTC just made this one up out of thin air and demonstrates how out-of-touch they are with the realities of how cannabis effects people. A major feature of cannabis is its calming effect.
The editorial relies on Brad Jones who is quoted saying, “The only way a community will be able to prevent recreational marijuana sales is to hold a town-wide referendum to opt-out.” Like almost every other statement in these two articles, this one is simply not true. The truth is that towns would only be required to opt-out only if a majority of the voters in that town support Question 4.
Brad and DTC say, “Cities and towns will be barred from imposing any registration, licensing or zoning requirements to restrict the home-growing of marijuana in private residences.” It is true the town will not be able to stop me or you from growing a few plants on our own private property if we want. The same is true for the beer and wine laws. The town can’t stop you. It is regulated by the state, just the way cannabis will be. What’s the alternative? It is what we have had for the last two months. Black helicopters flying very low over the whole of Martha’s Vineyard and the Amherst area at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars per hour to find a few dozen plants grown by a few dozen old folks trying to make some medicine for free. Is that reasonable use of tax dollars? Is that justice? Is whether I grow a cannabis plant anyone’s business but my own?
Brad and the DTC then complain that the pot we grow in our backyard will produce enough female bud, “…to produce 500 joints, valued at more than $60,000.” If that is your level of understanding, I want to talk with you about buying a wonderful investment property in NYC called the Brooklyn Bridge. Go ahead and plant your 12 plants and I challenge you to get even $5,000 worth of bud. You people have no idea what you are talking about.
Doesn’t all this fear mongering demagoguery sound trite by now? This Reefer Madness has been going on since 1937. No, cannabis is not a hot frying pan and your brain is not an egg. That’s just propaganda we all paid for, unfortunately. There is no evidence cannabis destroys brain cells or makes you sterile or causes birth defects or makes you a criminal or makes women have sex or many of the silly things spouted by prohibitionists.
Question 4 is not a question about whether or not we want marijuana. Marijuana has been here since it was brought here by Colonials and will remain here into the foreseeable future, whether it remains prohibited or not. Question 4 is not a vote for or against marijuana – it is a vote about how we handle marijuana users. Many marijuana users, myself included, need or want to avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a deadly toxin that is horrifically debilitating, addicting and disorienting. To relax, to recreate, to throw-off the troubles of the day and reduce stress, cannabis is a safer alternative to alcohol. Should adults who make that choice be criminals for doing so? No, they should not.
Bill Downing
14 Avon St.
Reading, MA