Advocate: Legalizing pot would help economy and users’ health

By Neal J. Riley, The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — Legalizing marijuana would be good for the state’s bottom line and would protect the health of those who use the drug, supporters told the Joint Committee on the Judiciary yesterday, even as the bill’s sponsor conceded it has almost no chance of becoming law.

“The state needs to make money,” sponsor Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, testified. “This would allow the state to benefit from marijuana by regulating it.”

Story’s bill would legalize marijuana and “establish a tax on the cannabis industry.” But Story offered no details in her testimony on the tax rate or what revenue such a tax would bring to the state.

Although Story said the bill is unlikely to pass, she said she is taking a lead role on the issue after 70 percent of her constituents voted in favor of a non-binding resolution to legalize marijuana in the 2010 municipal elections.

Possession of under an ounce of marijuana was decriminalized by a state ballot initiative in 2008. Those caught with small amounts of pot face $100 fines.

“There are a number of legislators who said to me privately that they think it is an excellent idea but they are nervous about saying it publicly,” she said. “Nobody wants to be seen as soft on drugs.”

Story also wants drug users to have more information about exactly what they are putting in their bodies.

“When you buy marijuana you don’t know what’s in it,” she said. “This is in the interest of public health.”

Suffolk University senior Sean McSoley, president of his school’s chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, testified that legalizing marijuana would also reduce violence.

McSoley, 23, said he was stabbed six times on Boston Common in 2009 by two men who wanted the bag of marijuana he was planning to smoke with friends.

“There is nothing about marijuana that makes people violent,” he said. “The prohibition is the reason for the crime surrounding marijuana and not the plant itself.”

Opponents the said the proposed bill was unnecessary and would hurt the state financially in the long run because it would increase incidents of impaired driving accidents and mental-health issues.

“There’s no need for legalization, no one’s going to jail for small amounts,” Massachusetts Prevention Alliance spokesman Kevin Sabet said. “If we’re worried about Big Tobacco, we need to be worried about Big Marijuana because they’re going to be coming up right behind them.”

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