Report: Senate panel misinformed voters about marijuana

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BOSTON — With less than a month until voters decide whether Massachusetts will legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, the campaign behind the ballot question is pushing back against information that forms the basis of the question's opposition.

Yes on 4, the campaign seeking to legalize marijuana for adults and regulate it the same way the state regulates alcohol, has released a rebuttal to the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana's report from March, which was stocked with warnings about legalization.

Led by Sen. Jason Lewis, members of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana traveled to Colorado to see the legal marijuana industry there for themselves and after about a year of research released a report highly critical of the ballot question.

Lewis now is a steering committee member for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, the group formed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo to oppose legalization.

"The Report covers a wide range of important issues, but however well-intentioned, it is flawed because it contains inaccuracies and speculative conclusions concerning the implications of regulating recreational marijuana," the Yes on 4 campaign wrote in the rebuttal's introduction.

The pro-legalization campaign wrote that "voters at the polls in November should base their decisions on facts and sound policy arguments rather than the misconstrued statistics and unfounded speculation of misinformed public officials."

In a statement, Lewis said he was "proud to lead the Special Committee and am confident that we produced a thorough, comprehensive, fair and balanced report that reflected all of the input that the Committee received," including from academics, regulators and public officials from Colorado and Washington.

While his committee was made up of representatives from around Massachusetts, Lewis said, "this 'rebuttal" has been authored by a law firm who is a hired gun for the commercial marijuana industry."

The Yes on 4 rebuttal was assembled by the national law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, which was involved in drafting the legalization law in Colorado and bills itself as "The Marijuana Law Firm."

The rebuttal was assembled earlier this year, but not released until this week.

Chief among the Senate committee's concerns were the impacts legalization would have on children and teens, the ability of law enforcement officers to discern when a driver is under the influence of marijuana, and whether the retail marijuana industry would generate enough revenue to cover the cost of its regulation.

The Senate report found that "legalization may increase the accessibility of marijuana for youth and contribute to the growing perception among youth that marijuana is safe for them to consume," but the Yes on 4 rebuttal claims that the Senate report "completely ignores the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's statistics on teen use rates."

Citing a 2013 report conducted by DPH and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Yes on 4 campaign said marijuana use by high school students in Massachusetts decreased from 28 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2013.

The rebuttal also points to data from the state-run 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey that shows the percentage of Colorado high school students who have tried marijuana at least once dropped from 43 percent in 2009, before legalization, to 38 percent in 2015, and that the percentage of high school students who have used marijuana within 30 days declined from 25 percent in 2009 to 21 percent — just below the national average.

"In sum, the regulation of recreational marijuana does not appear to have any statistically significant impact on teen usage or teen perception of risk associated with marijuana use," the rebuttal concludes. "However, strict regulations should be implemented to prevent the use of marijuana by teens and children, and the Massachusetts ballot initiative specifically contemplates such measures."

In fiscal year 2015, Colorado pulled in $103.2 million in marijuana revenue, compared to the $8.6 million in expenditures by the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division, the rebuttal claims.


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