EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

November 28, 2013

Mass. activists push to fully legalize marijuana


In 2008, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question decriminalizing possession of up to an ounce of pot, making it instead a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine. Some Massachusetts towns have given up trying to enforce the law, however, saying it has too many loopholes.

Not everyone thinks legalizing marijuana is a good idea.

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett says marijuana use can lead young people to harder drugs and other harmful behaviors.

“I’m not saying everyone who tries marijuana becomes a heroin addict, but the medical information is irrefutable that kids who start smoking marijuana are more likely to have substance abuse problems as adults,” said Blodgett, who also serves as president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

Blodgett said one unintended consequence of the decriminalization law in Massachusetts is that it’s harder to get young people into treatment and diversion programs because they can’t be arrested for possession of the drug. He said many private health insurance plans don’t cover drug treatment.

“Unless and until we have treatment-on-demand, we shouldn’t be talking about legalizing marijuana or any other drugs,” Blodgett said.

Downing rejected the notion that marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs and said the ballot question would restrict the sale of marijuana to adults.

“This isn’t about getting pot for kids,” he said. “No one on my side says we are getting marijuana for kids.”

When asked recently about the push to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick declined to offer an opinion.

There are potential legal troubles that come when states legalize marijuana, including the fact that state legalization doesn’t remove risk from an industry that still violates federal drug law.

Last year, Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved a ballot question allowing for up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries around the state. State health officials last week released a list of the 100 applicants that are seeking dispensary licenses. They said they hope to award the licenses early next year.

Backers of that question benefited from the deep pockets of Ohio billionaire Peter Lewis, who has funded marijuana initiatives in states around the country and served as chairman of the board of the auto insurer Progressive Corp. Lewis, who almost entirely bankrolled the Massachusetts medical marijuana question, died Saturday at 80.

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