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The Telegram
  • Editorial: Respect voters’ decisions on marijuana reform

  • The people have gotten way ahead of the politicians on drug policy. It’s time for elected officials to catch up.

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  • The people have gotten way ahead of the politicians on drug policy. It’s time for elected officials to catch up.
    A new Rasmusson poll found that 82 percent of Americans think the U.S. has lost the war on drugs, and most think the government is spending too much on it. They are ready to try alternatives to full prohibition, especially when it comes to marijuana.
    This change in attitude was evident in this month’s election results. Massachusetts became the latest state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Voters in Colorado and Washington went a large step further, legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana for recreational use.
    Too often, the reaction to these votes by officials and the media has consisted of little beyond dumb jokes, old stereotypes and foot-dragging. What we should expect is for public officials to implement the voters’ decisions with professionalism and respect for public opinion.
    Massachusetts officials are already complaining that the 120 days the new law doesn’t give them enough time to set up a system for licensing medical marijuana producers, distributors and users. Officials in some local cities and towns are already considering zoning changes to keep distributorships out of town, or at least limit where they can be.
    The new law limits the dispensaries to no more than 35 for the state, up to five in each county. In keeping with the referendum’s focus on medical marijuana, regulations should ensure they look more like clinics than psychedelic supermarkets. There is precedent for a modest approach: older Bay State residents still use the post-Prohibition term “package store” instead of the more straightforward “liquor store.”
    Meanwhile, the Obama administration has a decision to make. Marijuana possession is still against federal law. While the Justice Department has not bothered medical marijuana patients who haven’t broken state laws, it has closed down some large dispensaries in California.
    Eighteeen Congress members have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to respected the wishes of the voters of Colorado and Washington “that marijuana ought to be regulated much like alcohol, with strong and efficient regulation of production, retail sales, and distribution, coupled with strict laws against underage use and driving while intoxicated.” It is advice Holder should follow their advice to let states be the “laboratories of democracy” on this issue.
    Getting the regulation of marijuana right requires some experimentation, as we’ve already seen with state medical marijuana initiatives. which is another reason the feds should let states go their own way. There is precedence as well for federal deference in these situations: Massachusetts repealed its laws against alcohol three years before Prohibition was repealed at the federal level. Like other states that lead the way in undoing that historic mistake, Massachusetts was spared years of lawlessness and violence.
    Page 2 of 2 - There may come a time when the federal government can play a constructive role in moving the nation toward smart alternatives to the failed war on drugs. Until then, it should stay out of the way.
    MetroWest, Mass., Daily News
     

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