Changing pot culture, legality in focus

An activist, an economic researcher, and a trade group director sat down with a lawyer to talk about pot — and society’s changing views on it — at Thursday’s Ford Hall Forum.

Moderator Don Tye, a FHF board member and partner at Prince Lobel Tye, got straight to the point with his first question to the panel: what’s your view on pot?

“I see a lot of people being able to move up in the world [if marijuana is legalized] … It’s a matter of freedom,” said Cara Crabb-Burnham, president of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. “High quality, low tax pot” should be fully legal for people aged 18 or older, even though many activists support 21 as the minimum legal age, she said.

Eric Steenstra, Executive Director of the Hemp Industries Association, was primarily concerned with the legality of hemp, varieties of the cannabis plant that cannot be smoked but are used to make many products.

Sam Humphrey/ Opinion editor

“We think farmers should be able to grow a crop if they want to,” Steenstra said, referring to hemp, which he said is known as “ditchweed” due to its low THC content. He noted that policies on hemp and marijuana had a lot of overlaps, and that supporters of both plants’ legalization frequently worked together to lobby and promote their efforts.

Michael Head, a research economist at Suffolk’s Beacon Hill Institute, discussed the failures produced by American policies on marijuana.

“Prohibition has not succeeded in keeping pot away from kids,” he said, despite the efforts of campaigns like Just Say No and the D.A.R.E. coalition. By contrast, cigarette consumption among youths has decreased thanks to an increase in education on the detrimental consequences of tobacco, he noted.

Stores that sell cigarettes “have a profit motive to prevent sales to youths because they do not want to break the laws,” and face criminal penalties, he said. In Colorado, which legalized marijuana last year, a sting operation to get marijuana dispensaries to minors produced no offenders, he noted to back up this claim.

Crabb-Burnham also noted that marijuana is easier for minors to get than alcohol because storeowners have similar profit motives to prevent illegal sales.

Legalization will take the “cool factor” away from marijuana, Crabb-Burnham said, which will make it less appealing to minors who often push the boundaries set for them.

But legalizing it can produce more issues, noted Head and Crabb-Burnham.

“Too many taxes [on marijuana] defeats the purpose of eliminating the black market,” which has much lower costs without taxes, Head noted.

The culture of marijuana and its users is changing too, Crabb-Burnham said. She was the only participant to confirm to the crowd that she smoked marijuana, to which Tye said that she did not look like the “typical” or stereotypical stoner.

That’s because the classic stoner stereotype — of a disengaged or lazy young person — doesn’t include the many people who now enjoy the drug, including “professional” types, who did not before. The stigma around using marijuana is lessening, she added.

Audience attendance was unusually low for a Forum event, but those who attended presented several of their wishes and concerns. One man in particular was concerned that the majority of the pro-legalization camp had forgotten that people of color were still in prison, and had not been released in Colorado and Washington despite legalization.

Not so, said Crabb-Burnham. “There are a lot of activists and people [in the legalization movement] who talk about this issue,” she said.

‘Place Your Bets,’ Ford Hall Forum’s next event, will be held in Suffolk Law School on Oct. 23.