Mass Weighs Pros and Cons of Legal Marijuana
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Mass Weighs Pros and Cons of Legal Marijuana
Posted by CN Staff on April 02, 2009 at 06:15:59 PT
By Sam Butterfield, Collegian Staff
Source: Daily Collegian
MA -- Two Massachusetts legislators have introduced a bill that would make the sale of marijuana by licensed distributors legal in the state. House Bill 2929 and Senate Bill 1801, introduced in the statehouse March 23, was sponsored by Amherst Rep. Ellen Story, Northampton state Sen. Stan Rosenberg and petitioned for by Northampton attorney Richard Evans. The bills seek to tax and regulate the cannabis industry, stating that “previous efforts have not succeeded in eliminating or curtailing marijuana use and abuse.”
The bills would also create a regulatory board, the Cannabis Control Authority, to supervise the distribution and sale of marijuana in Massachusetts.Under the new bill, officials would place marijuana into one of three tax classes, depending on quality. The Control Authority would be charged with testing the quality of the marijuana to determine its tax bracket, collecting excise taxes on the sale of marijuana, issuing licenses to farmers, importers and commercial distributers.Also, the rule would apply to retailers who could potentially sell the marijuana in a store. The law would create tax stamps to issue to these purveyors to verify that the marijuana had been legally obtained. Driving under the influence of marijuana and public consumption would remain a crime. Marijuana under the new bill would be moved from its origin point to consumers in several stages. A farmer would hold a cultivation license, which would cost $500 annually, and could sell marijuana to a processor, who could “possess, process, package, box and crate cannabis,” into one ounce sealed bags, selling those to someone with a trade license, which would cost $3,000 a year. From there, the processor could sell the marijuana in any form to someone with a retail license, who would essentially be operating a marijuana storefront, selling marijuana to any person over 21 years-old who is not clearly intoxicated. No one convicted of a felony, except a marijuana-related felony, within the last 10 years would be able to hold a license.Rep. Story and Sen. Rosenberg cautioned that the bill was likely to be met with incredulousness from lawmakers, but said they hope the bill will open the door to dialogue on the potential benefits of marijuana legalization. Rosenberg said he hopes the bill will stimulate discussion on the issue of legalizing, though he said he doubts the bill will pass for the present.“It will take a while to get the legislature and the public’s attention on the subject,” he said. “It is not likely to move very far in this legislative term.” Rep. Story said that she would like to see the bill pass and that she feels it could at some point in the future, but that the present political climate in Boston indicates otherwise.“If there ever was a time that this bill should pass because of the tax revenues this would bring in, this is the time,” she said. However, she noted “the legislature will not vote for it because it does not want to be seen as soft on drugs.” Story said lawmakers would probably like to take some time to observe the effects of the recent decriminalization plan.“People who might even be in favor of this say ‘we just decriminalized it, let’s wait and see what that does, and then we can consider whether we can just make it altogether legal,’ but right now the mood in the legislature is not to do that, legislators are still very nervous about the legalization of currently illegal drugs,” said Story.Though she feels the bill will not pass at this time, she said she is hopeful that this legislation will generate open discussion about legalization and its potential for revenue. She also feels that opinions on all morality issues change over time, as new generations view once shunned behaviors more tolerantly.“The older generation, for the most part, were the ones who had such trouble with same sex marriage, and the younger generation will come along and find it astonishing that that was ever a controversial issue,” she said, “so the same thing may happen with marijuana.”Evans said he took the initiative to introduce this legislation because “no one else was going to do it, somebody has to.” Like the two legislators sponsoring the bill, Evans said he hopes it will create serious discussion about legalization.“I’m trying to prompt constructive discussion,” he said. Evans said he feels current marijuana legislation is anachronistic and represents government being out of touch with its citizens, adding that marijuana prohibition is no longer financially viable in an economic downturn. “It’s a legacy of past generations,” he said of current laws, “we don’t need the prohibition laws, we certainly can’t afford the luxury of the prohibition laws, we’re foolish to deny ourselves the tax revenue we could be generating; it’s a question of sensible government.”National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law (NORML) Director and University of Massachusetts alumnus Allen St. Pierre said the legalization plan would put Massachusetts at the forefront of marijuana reform and would help save taxpayer money and extend civil rights in ways other than merely ceasing the arrest and prosecution of users and dealers. “It would cease the arrest of approximately 10,000 people a year on cannabis charges,” he said. “But worse than that, it would stop the databases the government keeps of the DNA of marijuana users,” he explained.“In most states, if you’re caught smoking marijuana you have your DNA swabbed and put in databases, which are expensive to keep, and hand our government our genetic code.” St. Pierre, an Amherst native, said that prohibition has not worked to end the abuse of marijuana and that research suggests an effective way to curtail marijuana use would be to treat it in much the same way tobacco has been dealt with recently.“We have to use public education that is credible,” he said, explaining that the Partnership for a Drug-Free America’s anti-marijuana campaign, the largest ever advertising campaign, has not been seen as credible by young people, its target audience. By making smoking appear less desirable and by using hard statistics showing its dangers authorities have proved that it is an addictive, deadly substance, said St. Pierre.Further, by raising taxes on it, legislators have been able to create an introductory price which makes tobacco difficult to access for first time smokers, who are presumed to be younger and therefore have less income. If the same plan were to be implemented for marijuana, St. Pierre said, authorities would have a workable recipe for reducing the instances of marijuana use but still not clogging the criminal justice system or persecuting users. St. Pierre also explained that demography will play a role in shaping marijuana policy as the discussion on how to regulate marijuana continues.“The baby boom generation, like them or not, their mores and values – which decidedly intersect with marijuana – are essentially leading this nation, and the generation behind them, the 40-year-olds, you can call them, are behind marijuana more, and the people behind them, the 20-year-olds, are even more behind it,” he said. “When this gets vetted around the Commonwealth, places like Lowell, parts of Cape Cod and the islands, Cambridge, good parts of the whole Boston area and the suburbs, places in Western Mass. like Williamstown, Amherst – anywhere there’s a college – their politicians will be more inclined to support it than the bigger industrial cities like Worcester and Springfield that are more heavily swayed by the archdiocese and the Catholic church,” said St. Pierre.“But there will be a medical marijuana bill on the ballot in 2010 or 2012 and that will likely pass by the same margin as the decriminalization bill, so Massachusetts is going to be in play on the issue of marijuana,” he added.“Prohibition might have lasted had a major economic crisis not have confronted America,” he said. “And that is what is on the table now that is making this issue palpable.”Source: Massachusetts Daily Collegian (U of MA, Edu)Author: Sam Butterfield, Collegian StaffPublished: Thursday, April 2, 2009Copyright: 2009 Daily CollegianContact: sjb09 hampshire.eduWebsite: http://www.dailycollegian.comURL: -- Cannabis Archives
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