Marijuna legalization debated

SUNORML members attend State House hearings

Article By: Alex Sessa

Members of SUNORML (the Suffolk chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) attended a hearing at the State House on Wednesday, Oct. 14, about a bill to legalize marijuana in Mass.

“I think it went really really well,” said SUNORML President, Jeff Morris (2011), who said there were eighteen testimonies for marijuana legalization, and one against.

Students from other universities were present, including UMASS Amherst, Emerson, and Berklee. “There were a lot of young people there. This is the first time out of four or five hearings I’ve been to where there were so many young people and the legislators seemed glad about that.”

This November, lawmakers will vote on whether or not the legalization of cannabis in Massachusetts is constitutional. While the substance was decriminalized in the commonwealth last year, it is still illegal to obtain it in any amount. However, this may change in November when lawmakers will vote on whether or not marijuana should be sold and taxed in the state of Massachusetts.

NORML, which is a public interest lobby, has been working in association with colleges and universities (including Suffolk) to legalize marijuana since 1970.

The hearing opened with Richard Evans, a lawyer from Boston, who said, “Whether you like it or not, it is undeniable that it has become part of our culture,” in reference to cannabis.

Throughout the hearing, a wide array of arguments were brought forward regarding the subject, including how prevalent marijuana is in the commonwealth. For this reason, Evans argued that legalization would allow for a commodity rather than a criminal offense.

Furthermore, the legalization will help protect society. Evans said it’s time to “put your green eyeshades on and embrace marijuana reform laws.” According to Evans, Massachusetts is not the only state deliberating on the issue – both Rhode Island and California are considering legalization and taxation.

The committee jokingly remarked that they had never seen so many people asking to be taxed. Michael Cutworth, a Boston attorney, said, “It is time for serious consideration.” He stressed the importance of looking at law enforcement acts, other areas with legalized pot, and how intoxicants are actually affected by the substance at hand.

In recent months, Rhode Island set up a commission to study marijuana’s affect on law enforcement, a person’s health, and collect the names of elected representatives who have admittedly smoked pot.
Dr. Lester Grinspoon from Harvard medical school, who spoke in favor of the proposed bill, insisted that marijuana is a “remarkably nontoxic substance.”

In 1967, Grinspoon reportedly conducted a case study to show the world the dangers of smoking pot. He found, however, only the opposite, stating he was fully ignorant about the plant. “We’ve all been brainwashed about this plant,” he said. He went on to describe the medical purposes of marijuana saying, “It will one day be seen as penicillin was in the 1940s.” Both penicillin and marijuana are widely accessible and helpful to those with ailments, according to Grinspoon.

From a historical stance, marijuana has proven to have many uses, said Grinspoon. Members of the committee were educated on numerous historical facts about the use of marijuana, like Queen Victoria using it to handle pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). “The fact is, marijuana is here to stay and the best way to allow a medicine to live up to its full potential is to remove its restrictions,” said Grinspoon.

Police Chief Ed O’Leary, who has held the position since 1985, insisted that the biggest problem with drugs is not marijuana, but rather underage drinking. O’Leary, who supported the bill, only insisted that that it be amended by increasing the tax on marijuana, which would change the demographics of its use so that it would stay out of reach from children. He also mentioned that the police were called 361 times in the last year for non-violent drug use. In O’Leary’s opinion, the proposed bill will lower taxes spent on the police force. “It is wrong to ruin people’s lives and careers for simple marijuana possession.”

The committee was faced with a series of issues including whether or not it is fair not to be taxed for marijuana, whether or not it is constitutional to ban a relatively benign substance, and how whether or not the continuation of prohibition will benefit the country.

The fact that Massachusetts is working to legalize a nationally banned substance is not completely unprecedented. In 1923, the state of New York “dropped out” of alcohol prohibition.

Furthermore, the issue of marijuana reform laws is not an isolated issue. CNN is currently holding a poll in attempt to reach one million votes in favor of marijuana legalization and taxation.

If this can be achieved, a bill to nationally legalize cannabis will be presented to President Obama and Congress, though according to Morris, this will not happen anytime soon.

“I think [the legislators] want to see it passed in other states first. No one really knows what’s gonna happen [if the legislation passes].”