BOSTON >> At a press conference Friday attended by some of the most powerful state politicians allied against marijuana legalization, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he ignored his staff's advice to keep mum on his opposition to the ballot referendum.
"Sometimes I may take my time in terms of deciding upon an issue. I want to read a lot. I want to talk to a lot of different folks before making the final decision. This really wasn't one of those issues," DeLeo said. He said his staff advised him to say "you're going to look into it" when asked about the referendum, but "I didn't say that at all. I knew very, very quickly what my answer was going to be."
At a midday press conference held at Action for Boston Community Development, Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, officials predicted that if voters legalize it, marijuana and edible candy versions of the drug would seep into younger people's hands and serve as a gateway to usage of deadly narcotics such as heroin.
State and federal lawmakers from Massachusetts are largely working in tandem on efforts to grapple with the deadly scourge of opiate addiction. DeLeo described the regularity with which he hears requests for advice on how to help a drug-addicted family member or learns of the passing of neighbor from an overdose.
"Some of you may say, 'Well, those are opioids. That's not marijuana. You're talking about opioids. You're confusing the subject. That's not what we're here for today. There's no problem with marijuana - heck they're using gummy bears and brownies. What could be the problem with that?'" DeLeo said. "And to that I say, baloney."
Berkshire County District Attorney David F. Capeless joined the ranks of opponents at the event.
"The legalization of the recreational use of marijuana is not in the best interest of Massachusetts' citizens," Capeless said in a statement released Friday. "Today's marijuana is more addictive than in years past and in many instances the use of marijuana by teens leads them down the path to more stronger and addictive prescription drugs and illegal substances."
Outside the event, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesman Jim Borghesani told the News Service he wanted to know what studies opponents relied on to claim marijuana use led to bad outcomes, such as harder drug use.
"There's no such evidence of that," Borghesani said.
After ballot referendums in 2008 and 2012 decriminalized possession of marijuana and then legalized and regulated its sale and use as a medical therapy, a bipartisan group of state officials opposed to full pot legalization has begun a more organized, concerted effort ahead of this year's Nov. 8 election.
Jim Conroy, who was Baker's campaign manager in his successful 2014 gubernatorial run, is involved as is Corey Welford, a longtime top aide to former Attorney General Martha Coakley, Baker's Democratic opponent in that election.
Baker said state officials are attempting to "put the genie back in the bottle" in combating addictive painkillers and he fears marijuana legalization would have similar ramifications in future years.
The ballot question would legalize possession of marijuana for anyone 21 and older starting in December, eventually establishing a system for retail sale - that would preserve the prohibition on marijuana for teens.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Judicial Court altered the language that will be presented to voters in November, clarifying that edible marijuana products would be legalized in addition to the leafy drug.
Edible concoctions that use the intoxicating ingredient known as THC are a major component of the above-board marijuana industry, which is already established in Colorado and Washington.
"This isn't about allowing somebody to buy a joint and smoke a joint," said Walsh. He said, "It's about the edibles."
Officials warned that edible marijuana products could appeal to young people.
"I am a mother who actually packs the lunch box for my kids. I make them a sandwich and I usually always put a cookie or a candy bar or something good in there, a nice treat," said Polito. She said, "I cannot fathom the fact that in this Commonwealth if this question passes that there could be treats like that, that look exactly like that, that will be sold in stores in our Commonwealth, laced with THC, that are directly targeting the youth in our Commonwealth."
The legislation would establish a Cannabis Control Commission with purview over advertising, packaging, safety standards and other matters, and Borghesani said regulators would have the power to nix cannabis candies.
"Regulators in Massachusetts will determine what will be sold in stores. Not the industry," Borghesani said. He said, "Any candy that looks like a candy that a child would normally ingest is probably not going to be allowed in Massachusetts. A lot of them are already illegal in Colorado."