Thomas Bowler and sheriffs of Massachusetts: Increase marijuana excise tax for addiction treatment, services

Cambridge Mass. — As sheriffs of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, we have significant concerns regarding the potential for a drastic increase in addiction and people needing treatment for substance abuse once the recently passed law legalizing the use of recreational marijuana goes into effect.

Those of us who work on a daily basis with individuals suffering from addiction believe that there is correlation between the use of alcohol and marijuana and the later abuse of harder drugs, especially narcotics and opiates. Our intake screening process demonstrates a clear nexus, as we find that a majority of the addicts in our correctional system began first with alcohol and marijuana before abusing stronger drugs. Therefore, we anticipate an eventual increase in our addicted population after the recreational use of marijuana becomes legal.

Impact of new law

We commend Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature on the steps they have already taken to help the commonwealth fight the growing opioid and addiction crisis facing our state. However, given existing state budget challenges and the other pressing priorities in the state, we believe that soon the increased costs of addressing the scourge of addiction will not be adequately funded once the new marijuana law takes effect.

Hampden County Sheriff Nick Cocchi and State Representative Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow), have filed legislation for this upcoming session (HD 2590), "An Act to Increase Addiction Treatment Services," which seeks to raise the marijuana excise tax by 5 percent and direct those revenues into a separate dedicated fund for treating the disease of addiction. This fund would be established within the Executive Office of Public Health and be put under the control of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The proposed legislation also directs the Commissioner of Public Health to allocate those new funds to addiction treatment programs that are run by both private and public entities such as County Sheriff's programs, including those run in conjunction with the state's drug courts.

As sheriffs, we applaud Sheriff Cocchi's efforts and join him to support this bill because we believe this additional 5 percent excise tax on marijuana will provide for the requisite infusion of funds to help us deliver addiction treatment effectively.

The commonwealth currently does not have sufficient resources to adequately fund all of the necessary treatment that is needed now. As individuals who have long worked with our addicted population, we know first-hand that intensive and often lengthy in-treatment programs offer the best opportunity for addicts to recover fully. And that comes at a high cost.

Current funding generally provides for short term detox programs only. Due to incredible demand, we are forced to quickly turn beds over to the next individual who needs treatment after initial detox is complete. However the first three to seven days of addiction treatment is the time it takes an individual generally to detoxify just to the point that the brain is clear enough to start being responsive to the intense counseling needed to loosen the grip these narcotics hold on individuals.

It is clinically proven that the longer an addict stays in intensive treatment, the greater the chances are of helping to regain their sobriety permanently. We need this additional funding so that we can provide individuals the opportunity to avail themselves of professional resources and programs so that treatment has the greatest chance of succeeding.

Plenty of precedent

Every other state that has passed the legalization of recreational marijuana has set higher excise tax rates in order to ensure that sufficient revenues are generated to pay for the cost of regulation, oversight and enforcement. This was something that the proponents of Question No. 4 failed to provide in their language in our state. We strongly believe adequate addiction treatment should be added to this list.

Addiction is something that tears at the very fabric of our society and reaches into far too many of our homes, destroying too many families. We hope the readers of The Berkshire Eagle will join us in our efforts to battle this horrible disease by contacting your local state representative and senator and asking them to pass this new legislation that provides for the proper funding to literally save lives.

Thomas Bowler is sheriff, Berkshire County. The column was co-written by Sheriff Nick Cocchi, Hampden County; Sheriff Christopher J. Donelan, Franklin County; Sheriff Patrick H. Cahillane, Hampshire County. Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins, Suffolk County; Sheriff James A. Perelman, Nantucket County; Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson, Bristol County; Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian, Middlesex County; Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti, Norfolk County; Sheriff Robert W. Ogden, Dukes County; Sheriff James M. Cummings, Barnstable County; Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger, Essex County and Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald, Jr., Plymouth County     


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