Ballot question four is bigger than your “feelings” on marijuana

In a week, residents of Massachusetts will be presented with an opportunity to legalize marijuana, replacing an underground market with one regulated and controlled by authorities. We should do so. Bigger than anyone’s “feelings” on marijuana is the fight against the incarceration epidemic that disproportionately affects men of color. Ballot question four is about social justice.

To the people who are considering blocking the legalization of marijuana because, like me, you want to protect and strengthen our communities, I urge you to reconsider. Many of the young people I work with at Resilient Coders are directly impacted by the drug economy and everything that comes with it. It’s for them and their families that I will be voting for legalization and regulation.

I’ve heard the argument that marijuana destroys homes and communities. That is absolutely correct, but misleading. It destroys homes and communities by virtue of its illegality. Even though the possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in Massachusetts, people are still being incarcerated for it. It’s called a “technical violation.” It’s seen as a violation of parole or probation, which can land an ex-offender back in jail. It’s also worth noting that there’s still a “safety zone” around schools. So people caught with pot within a 300ft radius of a school are subject to a much higher minimum mandatory sentence. This functionally punishes people of color, who are more likely to live in densely populated urban areas, more severely than it does their white suburban peers, for the same infraction. Classic example of equality without equity.

So people are still being locked up. What about all those potheads who have been running around free since that decriminalization back in 2008? Surely our streets are more dangerous with them afoot. Right?

Wrong. The crime rate here in Massachusetts is now at its lowest since 1967, according to a report published earlier this year.

So why would you oppose the legalization of marijuana? Below are the four reasons presented by the “No” campaign, in the informational packet mailed out by Secretary Galvin’s office.

1. They say kids and pets might overdose on edibles. There’s essentially no evidence to suggest that you can overdose on marijuana. Moreover, it’s worth noting that people who make edibles will continue making edibles, regardless of the law. This bizarre edge case personae — those susceptible children and pets out there — are more prone to overdose today than they will be when marijuana becomes legal. We’ll be better able to regulate who’s producing edibles. And people who walk in on an OD will be more likely to call it in, if it’s legal. But seriously. Overdose?

2. They say it will allow people to home grow. Yes, and?

3. It allows “pot shops” to locate near preschools and playgrounds. Much like the liquor stores near preschools and playgrounds, which also don’t sell to minors.

4. This legislation ignores the deadly opioid epidemic. This is true. It also ignores the war in Syria, human rights abuses in China, and a whole bunch of other things that are also completely unrelated to the consumption of marijuana.

And remember alcohol? It’s the big (pink) elephant in the room that no one seems to want to address. You can’t oppose marijuana while still being even a casual drinker. Even people who believe it’s possible to overdose on marijuana (and again, it’s not) understand that you can actually overdose on alcohol. It’s alcohol, not marijuana, that breaks up families, scars children, and destroys lives. It’s alcohol, not marijuana, that is the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the United States. You don’t want to support the legitimization of a dangerous drug? Great. Start by putting down that glass of wine.

I’m not saying we should prohibit alcohol again. We know now that Prohibition led to the development of an underground economy, the rise of gangs, and an attractive economic opportunity for ambitious young people who felt disenfranchised from a more traditional path to financial freedom. Thank God nothing like this exists today, am I right?

To those of you who consume alcohol but feel that marijuana destroys communities, I would ask you to confront your assumptions. Challenge the reasons for which you oppose the safer of the two, while casually consuming the more lethal. Make sure that you’re not committing the mistake we all make sometimes: passing judgment based on the personal discomfort that we all get when faced with something that exists beyond our realm of personal experience. This is the impulse that has led people to oppose things like immigration and gay marriage: It’s “other” to me, and so I don’t trust it. The impulse is natural, but misguided, and not particularly conducive to an objective evaluation.

There are no valid reasons whatsoever to vote against the legalization of marijuana, and one very good reason to vote for its passage. Let’s fight back against the pipeline to prisons currently destroying our communities. Let’s do what’s right for Massachusetts, and vote “yes” on ballot question four.