Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bill to legalize marijuana gets Marblehead boost

By Kris Olson /
Marblehead Reporter
If the Massachusetts Legislature ultimately decides not to make the state a nationwide leader in legalizing marijuana, it won’t be due to a lack of support from Marblehead.
On March 6, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, proposed more than a year ago and co-sponsored by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, got a lengthy hearing before the Judiciary Committee, which raged into the evening.
There for all of the testimony and supplying some of his own was another Marblehead resident, Kevin McKernan, an accomplished scientist and founder of Medicinal Genomics, who last summer announced he had sequenced the genome of two strains of cannabis, a first step in perhaps unlocking a wealth of knowledge that may one day improve treatment and perhaps even cure a number of diseases.

Research has been slowed, McKernan noted, while scientists like him wait for licenses from the DEA to possess the drug for the purposes of studying it. McKernan used a lab in Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal, to assist in his sequencing project.

The current bill (H 1371) creates industry licensing, regulation and taxation standards, and establishes a Cannabis Control Authority comprising seven members with an initial appropriation of $2.5 million. It leaves in place penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana.

The bill’s preamble states that the legislation acknowledges that “100 years of criminalization in Massachusetts has failed to stop the production, distribution and use of marijuana, and that sustained enforcement efforts cannot reasonably be expected to accomplish that goal.”

It states that the bill seeks to “eliminate prohibition-related crime and to raise new tax revenue” while “promoting new jobs and industries in commercial cannabis and hemp” and “respecting the personal autonomy of adults, where freedom supposes responsibility.”

Ehrlich explained that during the last legislative session, the bill had been debated in front of the Revenue Committee, of which she is a member, due to the potential tax revenue it would create.
“As someone who really enjoys listening to both sides of an argument, I was open to listening and found myself compelled by the arguments made in favor of the bill by doctors, medical experts, lawyers and even law enforcement,” she explained.

She added that voters in her district have twice expressed a preference to loosen marijuana laws. Back in 2008, Marblehead overwhelmingly supported the decriminalization of possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, approving the ballot question by a margin of more than two to one. Two years later, voters in Ehrlich’s district were asked in an advisory question whether their state representative should “be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate the taxation, cultivation and sale of marijuana to adults.” Again, a strong majority, 56 percent, said “yes,” to 44 percent “no.”

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