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Town Hall’s marijuana paranoia

January 17, 2013

Hide your kids and get under the covers. Your safety and well-being is in grave danger.

There are currently 26 places in Walpole – yes, more than two dozen, including in some residential neighborhoods – where individuals can purchase and, at some of those locations, freely utilize a substance that causes more than 40,000 deaths nationwide each year. This substance, which is both addictive and has been identified as a gateway drug to more harmful substances, routinely destroys lives and families, and causes heartbreak, illness, and depression. Local business owners are routinely called on the carpet in front of the Board of Selectmen when they violate strict laws regarding its sale.

That substance, of course, is alcohol. And despite its dangers, the 26 establishments around town that serve or sell alcohol are many of the same restaurants and liquor stores that we all routinely visit and tout as economic development for our community. Just last September, town officials held a ribbon cutting at the newest alcohol dispensary – Conrad’s – which was widely hailed as another step in downtown Walpole’s revitalization.

Town Hall obviously doesn’t embrace alcohol, but it certainly doesn’t shun it.

Contrast that treatment to the unjustifiably nasty reception that medical marijuana is now getting in Walpole.

In November, voters in every single community in the state, except two, voted to legalize weed for medicinal purposes. The tally wasn’t even close – 63 percent of voters statewide, and 55 percent of voters in Walpole, favored legalization. On the same Election Day, marijuana was legalized for recreational use in two other states by decisive margins.

Voters in Massachusetts and the other states that legalized pot know the facts: studies over time have shown that marijuana is not nearly as harmful as alcohol, marijuana is not the so-called “gateway drug” that some law enforcement officials label it as, weed actually has proven medicinal value for people with serious illnesses, the so-called “War on Drugs” has failed and has only made drug use worse, and marijuana is inevitably – whether we like it or not – going to be legalized in our country one day, as so many other nations have already done.

Yet even before the November election, Walpole municipal and police officials were on a war path against medical marijuana. Police officials appeared on television, were quoted in newspapers, and appeared at public meetings to implore the public to oppose legalization. In the fall, Walpole Selectmen voted unanimously against legalization, hoping their position might sway voters to oppose the ballot measure in November.

But despite Walpole Town Hall’s best efforts, weed for medicinal purposes was legalized, and up to 35 marijuana dispensaries are expected to open in the state, up to five per county, sometime within the next few years.

And now Town Hall is in a fever pitch.

“Now our ability to enforce [drug laws] is technically gone,” a hyperventilating Deputy Police Chief John Carmichael told Selectmen in December.

“The bottom line is that it’s legal. What does that tell [our kids]?,” Selectman Chris Timson told The Boston Globe last week.

Walpole Selectmen were so upset that the voters overwhelmingly ignored their opinion that they even expressed support for a legislative proposal to delay the implementation of the law, which would essentially overrule the will of the voters.

This is not only anti-democratic, but it harkens back to the time, in 2002, when the legislature delayed the implementation of a voter-approved reduction in the state income tax that had passed in the 2000 election (which has effectively never been implemented since then.) If the legislature can delay medical marijuana, who’s to say they can’t block it altogether? And would Walpole Selectmen and police be in support of that?

Ultimately, of course, Town Hall is actually spouting a lot of ado about nothing.

Let’s have some perspective: alcohol is not generally prescribed by medical professionals as a treatment for patients with debilitating diseases. Yet it is dispensed at 26 different locations in Walpole with generally very few problems. On the other hand, marijuana, which actually does have some proven medicinal value, is a comparatively less harmful substance overall, and unlike alcohol was specifically legalized by a very wide margin of state and local voters, is apparently seen by town officials as the greatest public safety threat to this community since perhaps Y2K.

Maybe some folks at Town Hall should themselves smoke some weed so that they can calm down.

The reality is that medical marijuana will be heavily regulated, just as most other dangerous substances are. The Mass Dept. of Public Health has until May 1 to develop rules on how dispensaries will be zoned, how marijuana can be cultivated and stored, how registration cards will be administered, how marijuana can be prescribed by doctors, and how much marijuana would make up the maximum 60-day supply that patients are allowed to have under the law. The law specifically gave the DPH very broad authority to develop extensive regulations, and dispensaries are not allowed to open until they have been imposed. Like any set of regulations, the DPH will also have the ability to change them as needed over time.

Even though the law took effect on the first day of the year, meaning there is a several-month wait before the regulations will be implemented and patients are allowed to grow marijuana on their own during that time, town officials don’t really have any basis to declare that marijuana will be so prevalent in town that it will hurt their efforts to combat drug use.

There is no reason to believe the DPH won’t take the toughest road they can take and develop very stringent regulations – especially considering they are under so much pressure from municipal officials, health professionals, and legislators.

The root of Walpole’s drug problem, which the Walpole Coalition for Alcohol & Drug Awareness has been attempting to combat in recent months, is in the home. Parents should take responsibility for their kids, and teens should take responsibility for themselves. It should not be the government’s responsibility to look out for each person’s well-being.

Town officials have also expressed unfounded fear of the possibility that a medical marijuana dispensary could be sited in Walpole.

But a dispensary is no greater threat to our community than a pharmacy or a bar.

If no one else wants a medical marijuana dispensary in their backyard, I will gladly volunteer my neighborhood. I see nothing wrong with allowing people, many of whom are genuinely ill, to get the medicine they need. In fact, my residence is already within a few blocks of multiple bars and two pharmacies – both far greater dangers to my well-being than any medical marijuana dispensary would be.

If the Walpole Board of Selectmen is afraid of medical marijuana dispensaries, perhaps it’s time to make Walpole a dry town as well – shut down all the bars and liquor stores, along with the economic development they attract, and get rid of the one vice that has brought the greatest damage to our society.

If police are concerned about marijuana dispensaries attracting burglars looking for drugs, what about the times that local pharmacies have been broken into? What about the bars in town that attract rowdy drunkards and routinely require police intervention to break up bar fights?

Of course, getting rid of our bars and pharmacies wouldn’t be a smart idea, because alcohol prohibition failed miserably in the 1920s. Marijuana and drug prohibition has failed as well, as shown by the rampant drug use in our society and in our own town. Government can not be the moral police and tell people what substances they can or can not use. Marijuana should be regulated and brought out of the black market, and the medical marijuana law passed on Nov. 1 is a step in the right direction. It is a shame that Walpole town officials want to be on the wrong side of history.

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