Question 4, one of the important decisions facing Massachusetts voters in the coming days, would open the door to legalization of marijuana in the state. The question is a complex and multifaceted issue that bridges several social and partisan divides. State government is almost unilaterally opposed to the proposition, including Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh. People from all walks of life are finding themselves supporting or opposing a question with fellow voters from equally diverse backgrounds and viewpoints.
Opposition to or support of Question 4 isn’t necessarily equivalent to opposition to or support of marijuana. As a proposition, Question 4 is deeply flawed. So, too, is the path it would open to legalization. I’ll be voting no on Question 4 not out of spite for the drug or its users, but rather in the hope of a more responsible and measured path to legalization from the state legislature in the future.
I’m impartial when it comes to the legalization of marijuana. I’ve never smoked it, and I never will. I’m generally opposed to mind-altering substances, even alcohol, but I cannot deny the right of fellow citizens to enjoy themselves as they see fit. I would prefer that no one smoked marijuana, but I know that many do. And it seems evident that it should probably be within the rights of responsible adults to do so, however irksome to me personally. Supporting Question 4 on the principles of freedom and responsibility of choice was my intent, but after some research I don’t believe this ballot question presents the right path.
Legalization at any cost isn’t the answer. Voters who turn out in favor of Question 4 without understanding the implications of the decision do a disservice to themselves and to the state. We cannot simply decide that marijuana should be legal without first considering the ramifications. Many suppose that legalization will be a boon to the state coffers, providing a steady stream of state revenue and getting illegal money off of our streets. This logic might support a cause I do not personally condone, but the revenue system that Question 4 would establish is woefully inadequate, with a tax almost one-tenth that of Washington State.
A 3.75 percent tax on marijuana compared to other states like Washington (37 percent) and Colorado (30 percent) that have pursued legalization is almost comical. A tax that low would barely cover the cost of setting up regulatory infrastructure and the adaptive training needed for our law enforcement. We also need complex oversight of this transition to ensure a smooth process and to study the effects and potential fallout it might have. We need to ensure that regulations are being strictly followed and that the end of this prohibition is a positive change for society that helps to get drugs off the street, not put them in the hands of minors. Before the state sees any tax revenue, it will need to regulate the approximately 1,300 new businesses that are expected to spring up from the new industry. The onus will fall almost entirely on the state for this oversight since marijuana will still be illegal at the federal level. If Washington can get away with a 37 percent tax, surely we need to do better than 3.75 percent to offset all the costs that will come from legalization.
But the economics of the issue isn’t the only problem with Question 4’s path to legalization. Question 4 would open up a legal gray area twice as convoluted as the state’s decriminalized system. If Question 4 passes, people 21 and older could legally possess marijuana as of Dec. 15—just a little over a month from the upcoming Nov. 8 vote, but marijuana can’t be legally sold for more than a full year later, on Jan. 1, 2018. It doesn’t take a legal expert to see what a cockamamie and unenforceable situation this contradiction represents. Question 4 would also leave a vestigial medical marijuana licensing system in place, needlessly redundant since any adult could legally purchase the drug. Residents will be limited to growing just six plants at home, but surely this restriction just adds another murky and unenforceable complication to the process. Simply put, the system that Question 4 would create contains more crossed wires and egregious faults than a condemned house.
Selfishly, I don’t want marijuana to be legal. I don’t respect or condone its use, and I’d like to stay safe in my bubble, in which marijuana is at least culturally taboo to some extent, but I realize the impracticality and utter futility of this perspective. I have seen the devastating effects of alcoholism up close enough to make an educated guess that legalized marijuana will likely do no more harm to our society than the depressants already readily available on store shelves. Prohibition will be ended at some point whether I like it or not, and the most constructive thing I can do as a concerned citizen is to help choose a path that I believe will lead to the smoothest transition. Question 4 is not that path, and it is not the answer to the plea that marijuana proponents have been making for years. It is a way forward fraught with legal contradictions and economic risk. For those who think that this is their only chance at legalization and that the legislature will never consider it of their own volition, I urge you to have greater faith in your elected officials. They know that this is a pressing issue which requires their attention. Entrust them with the time to draft a plan toward legalization that is responsible and beneficial for all Massachusetts citizens. And, if they don’t act in due time, demonstrate your discontent with your votes and elect leaders who believe in making the issue a priority.
Though I strongly oppose marijuana, I am amenable to legalization—just certainly not in the form of Question 4. I urge my fellow citizens not to give in to the selfish urge to legalize at all costs, but to truly consider the possible fallout of passing this ballot question and to decide if it is worthwhile in the end.
Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor