October 27 2016

Youth & Family Services Director, Police Chief, Outline Concerns of Legalized Marijuana to Selectmen

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington Youth & Family Services Director Christine Shruhan and Police Chief Michael Kent were at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday to explain their concerns over Massachusetts Ballot Question 4, which if voted for would legalize the use of marijuana for everyone over the age of 21. 


Shruhan started by explaining that the Drug & Alcohol Task Force, which was a presence in town for years, is now called the Coalition for a Healthy Burlington. She said the coalition has two main focuses right now, the opioid epidemic and Proposition 4. 


In regards to legalized marijuana, she said she had a number of concerns. First and foremost was children and teens getting ahold of it and using it. She said that if a person delays the use of substances like alcohol and marijuana they have significantly less of a chance of developing a substance abuse problem later on than if they first use such substances before the age of 18. 


She also said that today’s marijuana is much stronger than what was used in the past. 


“The biggest concern I have is the edibles,” she said, referencing the food and candy goods made with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that have become popular. “They’re a whole other ball game and the risk of overdose is significant for teens.”


Chief Kent also raised a number of concerns. He cited two reports that he said demonstrate the negative impacts of marijuana legalized for recreational use: the Report of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana made by Massachusetts state senators who traveled to Colorado on an exploratory trip and the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area impact report on legalized marijuana in Colorado.


The first concern he raised was impaired driving. He said there are only 50 police officers in the state trained at identifying when drivers are operating under the influence of marijuana. Also, unlike alcohol, there is no Breathalyzer that works to get an accurate measure of how under the influence someone is. 


Kent also said he didn’t believe legalizing marijuana would eliminate black market sales. 


“Anyone who thinks this will make the drug dealers go away is crazy,” he said. “If there is a way to make money by undercutting legal shops, you’ll have people doing it. Also people will have home-grown, up to 12 plants, which is 400 joints, with no registration. I’ll have no way of knowing how many plants people will really have and how do we know they aren’t going to sell it?” 


Finally, he said if people are growing their own plants, it is possible others will break into their homes to steal them. 


Members of the Board of Selectmen also weighed in. 


“I plan on voting ‘no’ for all the reasons Christine and the chief just said,” Board Chair Daniel Grattan said. “My concern is the youth and that they are already marketing to the youth. Big Tobacco did it and alcohol did it and we should anticipate that’s what will happen if this bill is passed.”


“I draw a distinction between medical and recreational marijuana use,” Selectman Chris Hartling said. “I feel like to vote to legalize it sends a message to everybody, to kids, that it’s okay to do. How can we say we’re serious about addressing this opioid crisis we have while we’re considering legalizing marijuana?” 


Town Administrator John Petrin also had a warning to Burlington residents. He said that in 2012, 54 percent of Burlington voters cast ballots in favor of medical marijuana. However, he asserted, when a company started the process to open a dispensary in town many residents expressed their disapproval.   

“If you pass Question 4, it will come here,” he said. 

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