Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has come out as a fervent opponent of Massachusetts marijuana legalization, stating that he would be “absolutely” ready to take a stand against an anticipated legalization referendum.
Walsh, a recovering alcoholic and advocate for those dealing with drug addiction, said that he has “seen too many lives ruined by starting to smoke weed and then, eventually, going to other types of drugs… I just think it would be a mistake to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts.”
Although Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley are opposed to legalization, none have stepped into the spotlight like Mayor Walsh has. Coming out so strongly against legalization is seen as politically risky; strong majorities approved a measure in 2008 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis and another measure in 2012 to legalize medical marijuana.
Mayor Walsh appears to be acting from what he views to be a moral position; one adviser said the mayor feels so strongly about the legalization movement “that he is willing to use his political capital to let people know that he is not in favor of it.”
Walsh has a two-thirds approval rating, and could be in a position to turn the tide in Boston’s legalization debate. Democratic strategist Steve Crawford noted that “the most important thing you need for a ballot question is to introduce emotion into the debate… On this issue, no one has greater credibility than Mayor Walsh, and he is a formidable voice for families struggling with substance abuse.”
Walsh dismissed arguments that marijuana is not a dangerous substance: “I view it as a gateway drug,” he stated. “Some people can, I guess, smoke it recreationally and they don’t get addicted to it, but there’s a large number of people that are in recovery now or that are struggling on the streets with addiction, and they got their start by smoking weed.”
When asked whether he is concerned that marijuana arrests disproportionately affect people of color, Walsh was incredulous: “So because of racial disparities we legalize a drug that potentially could kill people, lead to death? I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to do it.”
Photo Credit: Rene Schwietzke
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