I thought the Boston Globe got it just right in its recent endorsement of Question 4: The question may not be perfectly framed, but the answer is definitely yes.
It’s time to get it over with. Let’s legalize marijuna. There are too many ways that people can get in trouble with the criminal justice system and marijuana should not be among them.
Legalizing means much more than just repealing prohibition. It means coming up with a new regulatory approach.
We have different regulatory approaches to different kinds of mind-altering substances. For mild substances like sugar and coffee, we only require labeling in certain circumstances. For cigarettes, we prohibit sales to minors, push the price up with taxes and require negative labelling. We also limit second-hand smoke by prohibiting smoking in many places.
For alcohol, we do most of the things we do for less intoxicating substances and also have heavy punitive laws against driving under the influence and a joint state-local bureaucracy for limiting the time, place and manner of sale of alcohol. You cannot just open a bar or liquor store – you have to go through a lot of expensive hoops.
So, Question 4, which combines many of the above elements and applies them to marijuana, is not a simple proposition. It is comprised of 11 tightly packed pages of new rules. Most voters won’t have the time to read the question, much make less make sense of the details.
Representative Jon Hecht of Watertown did a public service by assembling a panel of citizens to review the proposed question with the benefit of expert advice. They did not attempt to make a bottom-line recommendation, but, in essence, found that Question 4 covers the major issues that it should. It creates local controls over outlets. It taxes and regulates distribution. It prohibits sales and marketing to minors. And, of course, driving under the influence of marijuana is already and will remain illegal.
Because Question 4 attempts to address a range of issues, and the drafters did not have the benefit of the public process that shapes legislation, there will undoubtedly be a number of kinks that we need to work out after the question passes.
Legislators are already discussing possibly necessary fixes to the question. One “fix” I strongly oppose is increasing the proposed taxes on marijuana. One of the best reasons to vote Yes on 4 is to end the dangerous black market in marijuana. If we tax it too highly, or for that matter, make the licensing scheme too onerous, we will fail in that central goal.
One thing is for sure. There is no way that reform will happen without a yes vote from the people on November 8. This is an issue that is too hot to handle for most elected officials. The leadership absolutely has to come from the people. But, once the people give their blessing to the basic direction, I have no doubt that legislators and the Governor will step up to make it work.
I urge a yes vote on Question 4 and look to being part of the effort to make the transition successful. For more resources, see this post about the question or see generally, this thread on the reform issue.