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Safety concerns, alcohol regulations indicate marijuana regulation, expert says

Miriam Schizer, an expert in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Programs at Boston Children’s Hospital, says alcohol regulation can teach people some lessons about marijuana regulation. PHOTO BY LEXI PLINE/ DFP FILE PHOTO
Miriam Schizer, an expert in the Adolescent Substance Abuse Programs at Boston Children’s Hospital, says alcohol regulation can teach people some lessons about marijuana regulation. PHOTO BY LEXI PLINE/ DFP FILE PHOTO

While the passage of Ballot Question 4 has raised questions regarding how Massachusetts will regulate recreational marijuana, an expert says alcohol regulation could be indicative of how successful the state will be at controlling marijuana.

“We can learn a lot from what we’re doing with alcohol,” said Miriam Schizer, who works with the Adolescent Substance Abuse Programs at Boston Children’s Hospital. “But it’s not like we’re doing a great job with alcohol, so I’m not wildly enthusiastic or optimistic that we’re going to be able to curb underage marijuana use because we’re not doing a good job with alcohol.”

Local lawmakers announced last week that they are looking at expanding existing alcoholic regulations so they are more up to date, according to a press release from State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg’s office.

Goldberg announced the creation of the Treasurer’s Alcohol Task Force, which entails a group of professionals who will collaboratively review Massachusetts’s current regulatory and legal framework regarding the alcohol beverage industry.

“It is clear that our alcohol laws and regulatory structure have been in need of an exhaustive review for some time,” Goldberg said in the release. “The report of this Task Force is critical to providing the best structure that meets the expectation of effective and safe oversight.”

Marijuana can be even harder to regulate than alcohol, Schizer said, especially with regard to driving under the influence.

“We don’t really have a working equivalent of a breathalyzer,” she said. “People know blood alcohol concentration and you can do a sobriety test in the field … and that was one of the concerns that a bunch of us had about legalization of recreational use of marijuana.”

The leading cause of mortality among the 10-25 age group is motor vehicle accidents, which are linked to alcohol use, Schizer said. That is why, she added, many are concerned about the possibility that someone may use marijuana while driving, Schizer said.

While marijuana can be dangerous, Schizer said it also has significant medicinal benefits.

“There are over 100 compounds in marijuana, and we think a handful of those probably do have legitimate medical benefits, but the solution is not to say ‘go smoke marijuana,’” Schizer said.

Jim Borghesani, the spokesperson for Yes on 4, said he believes legalizing and regulating marijuana is the best approach to handling the drug.

“This approach would assure that buyers are receiving tested, safe products from licensed sellers who check IDs,” Borghesani said.

Borghesani said he also recognizes the inherent risks of drug use.

“Marijuana is an intoxicating substance, and like any intoxicating substance, anyone considering using it should proceed with caution and knowledge,” Borghesani said.

Several Boston residents showed support for recreational and medicinal marijuana, although they agreed it should be regulated for safety reasons.

Tim Cinq-Mars, 28, of South Boston, said even though he is a user of recreational marijuana, he still believes in strict regulation.

“Absolutely marijuana should be regulated because of age, motor vehicle operations, things of that nature,” Cinq-Mars said. “It could be dangerous to people while driving.”

Wendy Labron, 47, of Brighton said she is concerned about marijuana’s potential risk. Increased regulation on marijuana is necessary, she added.

“I worry about [its] effects on the brains of people under the age of 25,” Labron said. “[I’ve] seen incidents in which mental illness is exacerbated.”

Chelsey Thomas, 20, of East Boston, said she does not think marijuana poses more medical risks than other legalized substances.

“Marijuana has a lot of medicinal uses and I also think that of all the legalized drugs, it’s probably the least dangerous and doesn’t necessarily promote the laziness and things people think it does,” Thomas said. “I think it should be regulated like alcohol is just because, like any industry, we have to make money off of it. So I think that it should be taxed.”

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