Many New England states have been talking about the legalization of marijuana for some time now. Advocates of marijuana legalization have targeted the cluster of states as the next to join other states like Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia who have legalized recreational marijuana. Unfortunately, there is an opiate epidemic in New England that has many concerned that legalization could make the situation worse. This has stalled the process while politicians fix their attention on ways to reduce opiate addiction in the area.
But Marijuana Treats Opiate Addiction
Supporters of legalization have expressed that medicinal marijuana is prescribed to treat opiate addiction in other states such as California. Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services had a hearing on Tuesday to see whether opiate addiction could be added as a qualifying condition warranting a medical marijuana prescription. The department heard testimony from experts who said it helped with opiate withdrawal. There are ex-opiate addicts who have expressed that marijuana is the single reason they were able to survive the withdrawal without relapse and that the use of marijuana has allowed them to remain clean after many years. Despite this, there are medical experts that disagree, saying there is not enough available evidence.
Democratic Attorney General of Massachusetts Maura Healey is one of the officials who is concerned about potential legalization, believing that the state is working hard right now to get addicts help and caution youth about the hazards of drug use. She fears legalization will send the wrong message. Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston is also opposed to legalization. He is a recovering alcoholic who claims that many people start the road to addiction through marijuana. Ironically, the Mayor endorses policies that loosen alcohol regulation.
This issue has been studied at length by researchers and ultimately there is no evidence to back up the claim that marijuana leads to serious drug addiction. Jim Borghesani, the communications director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said “There is no more evidence that using marijuana leads to heroin than there is that riding a tricycle leads to joining the Hell’s Angels.”
The Public’s Favor
While many are nervous about legalization, an analysis done by Boston public radio station WBUR noted that public opinion may favor legalization in Massachusetts as all 85 marijuana based ballot questions in history have passed. Rhode Island Senator Joshua Miller believes that if any state in New England moved forward on legalization, Rhode Island would quickly follow.
A Vermont bill, supported by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, to legalize recreational marijuana and a regulated marijuana market was approved in February. It was broken down on Friday by the House as a very careful provision allowing legalized possession of small amounts and home growing. While the bill was approved in its limited form, it still doesn’t allow for the sale of marijuana. Despite this, Shumlin views the step as progress. Shumlin stated, “The committee’s action today takes a step towards addressing the nonsensical system that asks the 1 in 8 Vermonters who admit to using marijuana on a monthly basis to buy it from a drug dealer.”
While the opiate addiction to heroin and prescription drugs is a major epidemic in New England, many people still smoke marijuana recreationally so taking it out of the black market can only serve to help the community have safer, more regulated ways of accessing the plant. Shumlin’s bill may have been stripped down but every step helps on the forward progression towards lifting prohibition, legalizing marijuana, and creating a safer industry above ground.