Submitted by Fred Hewett

marijuana leafOn February 8, 2015, the Boston Ethical Community will host a panel discussion on the many issues around marijuana in Massachusetts. The panel will be comprised of members and allies of The Cannabis Society of Massachusetts (http://cansociety.org/).

Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008. This change was brought about through a ballot initiative, and took effect in January 2009. Prior to then, possession of even a small amount of pot was punishable by six months in prison and a $500 fine. The current law establishes a fine of up to $100, and conviction does not result in a criminal record.

Marijuana has been long used to treat glaucoma, migraines, the side-effects of chemotherapy, and various other medical conditions. In 2012, Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize marijuana for medical uses. Our law provides for up to 35 dispensaries across the Commonwealth, one of which will open here in Cambridge this year.

Cannabis advocates applaud the arrival of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, but on a national scale, we are somewhere in the middle. While the northeast states all have legal medical marijuana, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized pot for recreational use. (Legalization in the District of Columbia, while approved by voters, is subject to Congressional review.)

There is a movement in Massachusetts to join the states that have legal marijuana. A handful of activist groups have worked to put non-binding referenda on the ballot, as a means of gauging public opinion on the issue.

The results of the November 2014 ballot questions are unequivocal — there is overwhelming popular support for legalization in Massachusetts. In 14 separate districts, with tallies ranging from 54% to 74%, voters approved referendum questions asking if marijuana should be legalized and regulated in much the same manner as alcohol.

Not surprisingly, cannabis advocacy groups are planning a drive for full legalization in 2016. By then, the states where pot has already been legalized should offer a clear picture of the consequences — both good and bad — that legalization entails.

Finally, it’s interesting to note the sentiments on this matter of a great scientist and Humanist, Carl Sagan, who said: “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”

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