Advocates for the legalization of cannabis have accelerated efforts to bring the controversial question to the ballot in the 2016.
Polling and focus group data indicates 63 percent of Massachusetts’s citizens would vote to legalize cannabis and treat it like alcohol, said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He said the ongoing cannabis prohibition is similar to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and cannot last.
“If alcohol prohibition is considered the great failed social experiment that lasted about 10 years, what is a 76-year failed prohibition?” he said. “Prohibitions in free market democracies generally don’t work. They create more harm than to cure a supposed problem.”
Carla Lowe, founder of the Citizens Against Legalized Marijuana, said effects of cannabis should not be compared to the effects of alcohol. The main difference between the two products is that the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in cannabis is fat-soluble, whereas alcohol is water-soluble and is easily flushed from the body. Lowe said legalized cannabis would cost the economy instead of helping it.
“All of the crime-related costs, all of the traffic accident related costs, all of the welfare related costs, all of the costs of kids dropping out of school, all of the impact on the family … there’s not one aspect of society that is not touched by the use of marijuana,” she said.
Anti-cannabis advocates are also concerned legalized cannabis will give young people easier access to the drug, causing a lack of productivity.
“A third of the kids across America do not graduate from high school,” she said. “The use of marijuana among that population of kids is very, very high. Those kids are not going out and getting jobs. They are going to be on our public dole. I’m thinking we’re going to see all sorts of increased social problems.”
However, both St. Pierre and Matt Simon, the New England director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the availability of cannabis to children could be controlled through requiring an ID for cannabis sales and education.
St. Pierre said part of the money from cannabis sales should be put towards substance education and law enforcement, in the hope that society can benefit from legalization of the drug, partly because it could reduce the amount of cannabis trafficked and sold on the Black Market.
“It’s better for society to get taxes from those commercial endeavors, and, in some cases, earmark some of those taxes to help deal with the social consequences of that industry,” he said.
When NORML was founded in 1970, only 9 percent of the American public supported legalizing cannabis. Today, 58 percent of U.S. citizens support legalizing cannabis, according to a Gallup poll published Oct. 22.
“When about 60 percent of people want it to change, the laws change,” St. Pierre said.
Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, said although Massachusetts is following the rest of the nation in favoring legalized cannabis, it is too early to say whether or not its citizens will vote in its favor.
“2016 is a long way away,” he said. “If things keep going the way they are nationally, there’s at least a decent chance that when we do polling in Massachusetts, we’ll see some more dynamic, but it’s really too early to say.”
Residents are split over the issue of legalizing recreational cannabis, seeing both the benefits and downfalls of complete legalization.
Ricardo Albacete, 18, of Boston, said he understands the motivation for legalization but does not support it.
“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s something everyone disagrees on. If it’s illegal, people will buy it anyway. It’s an addiction and I don’t support it.”
Jennefry Bolanco, 23, of Dorchester, is afraid that legalizing cannabis could make it as commonplace as a cigarette.
“If they legalize it and they put it into the market, they’re going to start selling more,” she said. “It could become like a cigarette. It’s legal, so they sell more. Also, people will start using marijuana as an excuse for being high and doing certain things.”
Tom McDonald, 27, of Back Bay, sees legalized cannabis as the solution to many different problems.
“There would be an increased revenue stream, plus all that money spent for keeping people locked up for nonviolent defenses that have to do with marijuana, and public defenders … we pay for that with tax dollars,” he said. “Plus, crime-wise, as far as violence, by making it legal, the drug cartels won’t be the ones making all the money off it anymore.”