Our Opinion: Dealing with reality of marijuana law

The old "reefer madness" stigma associated with marijuana is hard to shake. Despite the fact that its growth, processing, sales and use have been legalized in other states — and last November, here in Massachusetts — pot is still associated with licentiousness, indolence and counterculture protest.

In fact, marijuana has been recognized as a legitimate remedy for afflictions ranging from chemotherapy-related nausea to chronic pain relief, and it is used recreationally — and responsibly — by Americans from all walks of life and strata of society. In states where it is legal, there has been no breakdown of society and the republic still stands. Marijuana now carries the promise of an economic boon for locales like Berkshire County, thanks to its largely rural character and a population eager to fill the jobs it might bring.

Nevertheless, there are some communities in the state whose members are still struggling to divest themselves of the societal blinkers of the past. Last week, for example, the town of Milford in Central Massachusetts — which voted last fall to legalize marijuana — just voted again on the subject, this time to ban shops selling the substance within its borders. This act carries the rank odor of hypocrisy, because that's exactly what it is. It was easy to vote for legalization when the whole issue was still an abstraction. Now that "demon weed" is poised to invade their town, residents have been afflicted with NIMBYism. There are towns in Berkshire County (where 60 to 70 percent of voters supported legalizing weed last year) that are not immune from this syndrome.

Legal sales have the potential to dramatically cut the market for black-market marijuana. Legal weed could become so readily available that there will be less incentive to sell it on the sly. Criminal organizations that sustained themselves in the past on its revenue will wither and perish. The words "readily available" are the key.

Residents opposed to pot shops or farms might pause to consider that acting on their fears may have the unintended consequence of encouraging the very activities they wish to dump on some other community. Barring residents from easy access to legal pot may create a favorable environment for extralegal sales, particularly in a county where pot has every possibility of developing into a major cash crop.

Massachusetts is fortunate in that it is not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. The Legislature needs to ensure that the industry is well-regulated. To that end, a Cannabis Control Commission has been created to protect the state's and the public's interests through the regulation and licensing of businesses selling marijuana.

Marijuana, for better or worse, has been integrated into our social fabric. The historical associations with crime stem from when it was banned, just as alcohol was during Prohibition. Residents of all towns in the Berkshires and state should accept that their fellow citizens have indicated they want ready access to legal pot. The goal now is to make the process work efficiently going forward for the betterment of all.


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