Attorney General wades into marijuana debate: Editorial


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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is not shying away from her opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, a debate destined to wind up as a referendum ballot question in 2016.

Healey's stance is worth considering, for she said it takes into account the observations of attorneys general from Colorado and Washington, where marijuana was legalized in 2012.

The impact of those decisions is just emerging. Several Massachusetts officials have pledged to weigh the Colorado and Washington results as they consider their own convictions.

According to Healey, drug trafficking in those states has not dropped. In fact, out-of-state buyers are purchasing huge quantities of pot for the purpose of selling it.

Healey said she was told that underground dealers still flourish in Colorado due to reduced prices. Whatever advantages were gained by legalization - and she concedes there are some – do not make this an across-the-board home run, as she sees it.

Voters in Oregon and Washington, D.C., have authorized personal use and cultivation of marijuana. In Massachusetts, some legislators are pushing for legalization, in part because it would give them some regulatory control that a ballot initiative would not.

By rejecting full legalization, Healey has made it clear she will be a player in the debate. By lining up on the same side as Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who also opposes full legalization, this Democrat is removing partisan politics from the table.

She said her past support of successful initiatives to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce is not a contradiction. Her study of the Colorado and Washington results shifts the debate away from morality, social changes and even health.

It speaks to a more pragmatic side of the debate: if a primary goal of legalization is to take the underground out of the game, will it work?

There have been revenue gains in states with legalized pot. Healey says the early results suggest those gains are mitigated by drug trafficking that is increased, not decreased, and by a corollary increase in gun trafficking.

Beyond her role as the state's chief law enforcement officer, Healey's past support of easing penalties on marijuana makes her a credible analyst on the subject. Her comments indicate she is not against legalization on moral or religious grounds that pro-legalization advocates consider intrusive, outdated and misguided.

Her questions involve whether legal pot would be a double-edged sword, minus some of the perceived advantages advocates say full legalization would bring. These are questions worth seriously considering and debating, with the growing likelihood of a 2016 ballot referendum hanging in the air.


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