The current situation is worse than legalization would be. About half of residents of Massachusetts have used marijuana, and therefore have broken the law. Marijuana is no more likely to be a “gateway” than alcohol, but using it puts people in contact with drug dealers who may be promoting more dangerous products as well as marijuana with unregulated quality. Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol; it doesn’t work with marijuana. Although I don’t think the ballot initiative is perfect, I don’t think the legislature will take up the issue unless it passes. If it does, we can address issues of age limits, tax levels, bans on the sale of edibles and other products targeting young people, etc. And we can use funds generated to do more education and prevention, as we have successfully done with tobacco.
We are most concerned with adolescents using marijuana because of their immaturity in brain development and judgement. Colorado has seen no increase, and even a small decline in use among young people since legalization. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/20/marijuana-use-colorado-teens-marijuana-no-increase/
We should aim for that as well. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that past-year use peaks at about 42% among 18-25 year olds and drops to 11% over 26. [http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHsaeSpecificStates2013/NSDUHsaeMassachusetts2013.pdf]
We are deeply concerned with the deadly opioid epidemic. In states which have legalized medical marijuana, opioid prescriptions have dropped. Since most people who become addicted to opioids start with prescription drugs, reducing opioid prescriptions is extremely important. http://time.com/4404697/marijuana-opioid-epidemic/ We have initiated other programs, such as limiting initial prescriptions, reporting of prescriptions and academic detailing for doctors. We have created new treatment beds. But giving people another legal and less dangerous alternative is important.
Finally, while marijuana possession has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, people are still “routinely charged with intent to distribute, which almost automatically adds in the school zone provision. Virtually everywhere in any urban area is within ... what is defined as a school zone. This brings felony conviction, mandatory minimum sentences, and the potential for total unemployability in the future, not to mention the harm that comes from prison time,” according to Dr. Alan Wartenburg, an addiction recovery specialist who has worked with the Committee on Public Counsel Services.