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Yes or no on Question 4: The arguments behind marijuana

Nov. 8 marks the epitome of this presidential cycle, where so much anger, money, and just plain politics come to headway. For five states including Massachusetts, there are additional contentious issues to be decided at the polls from ballot questions. These are four questions that have the power to substantially alter the social services offered in Massachusetts, from affecting the educational dynamic in with the number of charter schools to the legalization of the drug, cannabis for recreational usage. The hotly debated marijuana legalization will be listed as ballot Question 4. Nine states across America are casting their votes on this initiative, which has caused millions of arrests, thousands to be incarcerated, and billions of dollars to be spent trying to combat the use of marijuana within the United States for many decades. As of yet, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have signed off allowing the recreational and medical use of marijuana, with another 25 states allowing medical usage. Proposal four will bring finality to how marijuana usage will be tolerated by the state of Massachusetts, laying the groundwork that a vote yes, will “allow the use, cultivation, possession and distribution of recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old.”

Certain groups have sizable stakes in the outcome of this initiative and have a strong conviction in their agenda to either lobby for or against legalization. High in the Massachusetts leadership, Governor Baker, Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh, House Speaker Robert DeLeo all oppose legalization and have classified it as a bipartisan issue, wanting to gain as much traction as possible. They began their plan of action this past July, only two days after the question received over 25,000 signatures to make it on the November ballot. They aptly named their coalition, the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, as they cite the current opioid crisis striking across Massachusetts, as a practical reason to not engage in more drug activity, “that we know is harmful to our kids and families,” Speaker DeLeo added. Much is still to be found in the benefits or negatives associated with cannabis either recreationally or medically. Research has only just escalated over the years from 2014 as “only 6% of studies on marijuana analyze its medicinal properties.” Their campaign strives to highlight using fear tactics, the overbearing control from the marijuana industry, who invite “dangerous edibles, inevitable increase in drugged driving” within communities. During the fundraising period in September, groups including this Campaign were able to raise, as of the beginning of October, $608,748.73 with help from Boston Bruins star Bobby Orr who donated $1,000 specifically to the Safe and Healthy campaign. The sharp divide between opposition and support for Question 4 whittles down to fear for public safety, and the long-term health effects.

Organizations in addition to the Safe and Healthy campaign worry about the effects Marijuana can exacerbate on children and young adults, serving “as a gateway to drug abuse and addiction.” Donations from medical professionals have increasingly been financed in opposition to Question 4, the greatest donated by Partners Healthcare, $100,000 in cash. Partner’s Vice President, Rich Copp stated their uncertainty surrounding how much is considered a safe amount allowed within edibles (marijuana baked into sweets and food products). He recommends further research into what risks this will pose onto people. This fear of the unknown surrounding marijuana has played a crucial role in why so many organizations are so politically active this election cycle.

There is not only big money in opposition to marijuana, as even individuals are acting swiftly in support of the marijuana initiative, including Susan Ruiz, an investor and travel writer, Rick Steves with $150,000, and $100,000 respectively. The influence of wealthy individuals has shown to alter public policy significantly, which may or may not be to the will of the people. The greatest backing of Question 4, was received from the non-profit New Approach Political Action Committee, with $650,000. Research into New Approach’s contribution framework, the various individuals donating had no ties to the marijuana industry. The current director of this PAC, Graham Boyd, described these grassroots donors as “people who believe that it makes no sense to treat marijuana as a crime.” Scientific studies done by the think tank, Cato Institute have thwarted the opposition position that legalization will only increase the usage of marijuana among teenagers. Their research found that within states like Colorado and Washington, there has been no escalation in “drug-related traffic accidents and fatalities in Colorado and Washington.”

There is, of course, a legal discord between state and federal level law, because of marijuana’s classification as criminal under the federal government, but the Obama administration has not acted upon prosecuting states operating under legalization. Current polling in Massachusetts found that 55% of voters support legalization, falling in line with national support, which is around 54%. Among the political parties, there has been expected partisan results, with 65% of Democrats in support, and 62% of opposed Republicans somewhat matching with Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton’s platform for marijuana is in support of changing classification from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, drugs considered to have no medical use, up to Schedule 2 allowing for medical usefulness, but could be abused. Clinton expressed on the Jimmy Kimmel show in March 2016 that she supports the state-by-state legalization, so if elected Clinton seemingly could push to federally legalize the drug presenting a transformation in the US economy and health care system. Trump has left the legalization decision to the states, but has commented on the Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly show that there could be “concerns about the long-term effects of marijuana use on the brain.” There is much to be considered by voters come November, if the United States should join other countries around the world like Colombia and the Czech Republic, in legalization, leading to a change in the economic and judicial system dynamic.

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