Moulton breaks away from Mass. delegation, supports legalized marijuana

Congressman Seth Moulton

BOSTON — Congressman Seth Moulton thinks marijuana should be legalized and regulated in Massachusetts, arguing that the state could get a much-needed windfall in tax revenue while driving down black-market pot sales.

Moulton, who acknowledges trying pot as a student at Harvard College in the 1990s, said opponents have “legitimate concerns” about people driving under the influence of marijuana and kids using the drug. Regulation, he said, is the way to address those concerns.

“Let’s not kid ourselves — people are using marijuana,” said the Salem Democrat. “The problem is now that it operates in the shadows. There’s no control. We really have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

Moulton’s position puts him at odds with other members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation — and indeed, many of the state’s elected officials — who oppose a Nov. 8 ballot measure and argue that legalizing pot will put people on a path to harder substances.

If approved by voters, Question 4 will allow Massachusetts residents 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also would create a 3.75 percent tax on marijuana sales and a state-regulated system of retail outlets, growing facilities and testing.

It is now illegal to grow, sell or possess marijuana, though a 2008 ballot question made it a civil offense to possess an ounce or less of marijuana, punishable by a $100 fine. Voters have also opened the door to its medical use.

Opposing pols

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, is one of four members of the state’s congressional delegation to publicly oppose legalization.

Tsongas said she supports the use of marijuana for medical purposes and the decriminalization of small amounts of the drug, but she has “serious concerns” about allowing its cultivation and sale for recreational use.

“Many unanswered questions remain about the financial costs, law enforcement implications and broader social impact, and my concerns echo those of the many medical, law enforcement and substance abuse experts in our region opposed to the measure,” she said.

Opponents of the ballot measure point out dozens of state officials who’ve come out against it. They include Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey, both Democrats.

“They understand that this is really a corporate giveaway to the marijuana industry that isn’t focused on public health or safety,” said Jeff Zinsmeister, a spokesman for the nonprofit Smart Approaches to Marijuana, one of several groups opposing the proposal.

Undercutting opioid fight

Massachusetts is one of five states — along with Maine, California, Arizona and Nevada — with a ballot initiative this year that could legalize recreational use of marijuana. Four others have legalized its recreational use: Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon.

Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, D-Brookline, said legalized marijuana would undercut the state’s efforts to combat the deadly opioid crisis.

“At a time when Massachusetts is facing a crippling addiction crisis, increasing access to yet another controlled substance undermines the families, individuals, communities, law enforcement officials and health care workers on the front lines of this epidemic every single day,” he said in a statement.

Congressmen Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, and Bill Keating, D-Bourne, also oppose the ballot measure, citing similar concerns.

On the fence

Other members of the state congressional delegation remain on the fence, with less than seven weeks until the Nov. 8 election.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Cambridge, has been less clear about where she stands, telling reporters recently that she is “open” to legalization because of problems created by voters decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana without state regulation.

Warren and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Malden, have prodded the federal government to allow more research into medical marijuana, which has been approved for use by voters in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug, and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration states that it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Spokespeople for Warren and Markey did not respond to requests for comment.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, told reporters this week that she is “still wrestling” with the question.

Christian Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the Times and its sister newspapers and websites. Reach him at cwade@cnhi.com.

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