March 8 2016

Sheriff Koutoujian Praises Work of Special Senate Committee on Marijuana

By: Rich Hosford

Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian voiced his approval for the findings of a Massachusetts Special Senate Committee on Marijuana that spoke to concerns about legalizing the drug, a possibility through a ballot initiative. 

“The study thoughtfully presents a number of important public health and safety concerns, including how the legalization of marijuana could impact children,” the sheriff said in a statement. “The lasting impact of a decision of this magnitude will influence generational attitudes, as legalization would be a dangerous step towards making drug use more socially acceptable. As we seek to make a determination on this important public policy decision we must be mindful of its potential public health and safety dangers, ensuring the debate remains focused not just on the present, but the health and safety of generations to come." 

In February of 2015 the Massachusetts Senate created the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana. The purpose of the committee was to research and analyze the policy ramifications if Massachusetts voters were to legalize the adult recreational use and sale of marijuana.

In the report released this week, committee members laid out a number of concerns, including the following: 

Public health concerns:

- Even with strong safeguards in place, legalization may increase the accessibility of marijuana for youth and contribute to the growing perception among youth that marijuana is safe for them to consume.

- Marijuana-infused edibles are the fastest growing segment of the market and present particularly challenging issues for public health and safety.

- The risk of harmful health consequences and addiction may be greater than in the past due to the high potency of many products on the market today.

- Even with tight restrictions on advertising and marketing, legalization would likely encourage commercialization and market expansion as marijuana businesses seek to grow their revenues and profits by gaining new customers and increasing the consumption of their existing customers


Public safety concerns:

- There is no well-accepted standard for determining driver impairment from marijuana intoxication and no equivalent test to an alcohol breathalyzer, making it difficult for law enforcement to identify and arrest offenders and gain convictions in court.

-Although some banks have been willing to assume the risk and considerable expense involved in providing banking services to marijuana businesses, the industry still relies heavily on cash for many transactions and is unable to obtain bank loans or lines of credit, raising security concerns.

-Even with legalization and reasonable tax rates, the black market is likely to persist due to the significant profits to be gained from meeting demand (of adults and youth) across New England, as well as the ease of growing marijuana and the difficulty that law enforcement would face in enforcing home growing limits.


Economic and fiscal concerns:

- Since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, state agencies would have to assume the difficult and costly responsibilities for ensuring public health and safety, environmental protection, and agricultural safeguards that would ordinarily be undertaken by federal agencies such as the FDA and EPA.

- There is considerable uncertainty regarding federal policy toward marijuana, particularly with the impending change in administration after the presidential election, as well as growing conflict among states with different policies toward marijuana.

- Tax revenues and fees that would be generated from legal sales may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs (including regulation, enforcement, public health and safety, and substance abuse treatment), and should not be expected to provide a significant new funding source for other public needs such as education or transportation.

The committee members also said that the effort required to implement marijuana legalization by state and local governments would take up a lot of time, resources and energy. 

“In the final analysis, the Committee members believe strongly that it would be prudent for Massachusetts to take a cautious approach to considering marijuana legalization, and continue to learn from the experience of other states,” the opening letter of the report concludes. “If the legislature were to take up legislation to legalize marijuana or the voters were to approve the likely ballot question in November, it will be critical for the legislature to carefully consider how best to address the numerous policy issues outlined in this report in order to protect the health and safety of the residents of the Commonwealth.”

You can read the full report here

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