Approval by the voters of marijuana legalization, now in effect, imposes a duty on nearly all of us to make it work.
“Working” means being certain the public health and safety are protected, the health impacts of marijuana are known and addressed, young people are not marketed to, new tax revenue exceeds public costs, addiction and accidental ingestion of edibles are minimized, and “commercialization” does not define the new industry.
Add to that list that the squeeze is put to the black market, consumers are protected from impure or unsafe cannabis products, and lots of good jobs are created.
And, certainly, legalization can only be said to “work” if people who exclude marijuana from their lives can avoid unwelcome intrusions.
Politicians and policymakers will be strongly tempted to revert to auto-animus toward marijuana, as such is the demand of conventional political wisdom, but Question 4’s 54 percent vote proves conventional wisdom wrong: Supporting marijuana reform won’t cost you the next election. The immediate challenge to lawmakers is to determine what changes are necessary for the accomplishment of those goals above, if any, and not confuse them with changes that carry only political advantage.
Municipalities across the state are scouring the new law to consider how to accommodate this new above-ground industry that aspires to serve the needs of local residents, previously served only by the black market. Local officials will need to discern carefully between how legal commerce in cannabis threatens public health and safety and how offensive it may be to some.
Institutions and organizations, public and private, need to look at their internal rules and policies, now that getting caught with pot doesn’t necessarily warrant punishment by the state.
Entrepreneurs need to consider the social impact of their products, and the effect of their presence on the local community. In commerce, marijuana is the new kid on the block, looking for respect. Like any other new kid, he has to earn it.
The heaviest duty falls upon consumers themselves. Legalization will succeed not because the rules are perfect, but rather when a culture of responsible use emerges, where it is accepted as normal that pot isn’t for kids, that drivers must not be impaired, that you don’t get high at work, and that you don’t violate the rights of others.
In this new culture, there is a difference between the use and abuse of marijuana, unlike back when prohibition conflated the two.
We know that the clear majority vote for Question 4 did not come from marijuana consumers, as only 13 percent of adults, according to a recent Gallup Poll, are current consumers. The other 41 percent don’t use it but are tolerant of those who do – so long, it’s fair to expect, that it doesn’t become a problem. Lose their support and consumers have lost the next election.
The most historically important challenge of our new law lies in a little-noticed provision requiring regulators to adopt “policies and procedures to promote and encourage full participation in the regulated marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and the positively impact those communities.”
Unlike the other seven states where marijuana has been legalized, our new law expressly recognizes the brutal truth about prohibition, namely, that it was designed as an instrument of oppression, and has served that function shamefully well. Now we have an opportunity help to address that wrong.
The expansion of liberty is never a tidy affair, but with good faith, determination and mutual respect, we can make this one work.
Dick Evans, a Northampton lawyer, chaired the Yes on 4 Committee.