The Scarlet

Legal Weed Faces Resistance at All Bureaucratic Levels

Jason Fehrnstrom, Scarlet Staff

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Fourteen months ago, the citizens of Massachusetts voted to legalize the cultivation, possession, and sale of recreational cannabis. In spite of this pivotal development, citizens in Shrewsbury, Mass., a suburban enclave bordering Worcester, have organized a powerful political coalition to obstruct the sale of retail cannabis in their town.

The contentious debate concerning the sale of retail cannabis began almost immediately after the November 2016 vote. Indeed, the proportion of voters who opposed the legalization initiative was much higher in Shrewsbury. Sixty percent of Shrewsbury voters opposed the legalization initiative, while only 46 percent of voters did so statewide.

Town officials from Shrewsbury responded to the ambivalence of their citizenry by establishing a temporary suspension that prohibits retail companies from requesting and obtaining permits to sell cannabis. The suspension, enacted in May of 2016, will be in effect until this upcoming November.

The suspension currently in effect in Shrewsbury only curtails one aspect of the legalization question that passed in November 2016. Citizens of Shrewsbury are still allowed to possess and use cannabis. The temporary suspension solely prevents the proliferation of cannabis-related businesses in the town of Shrewsbury.

Pundits and politicians in Shrewsbury have taken decisive stances regarding the issue of whether or not to allow these retail establishments. Selectmen James F. Kane and Beth N. Casavant are in favor of a total prohibition of sales in the town, citing “the impact on children and law enforcement.”

Additionally, Kane, Casavant, and their acolytes argue that this policy is in accordance with the will of their constituents, as a majority of Shrewsbury residents opposed the legalization bill.

Conversely, Selectmen Maurice DePalo and Moria Miller support the allowing and regulating of recreational cannabis stores. DePalo and Miller posit that a prohibition of retail stores would not prevent citizens from procuring and using cannabis through alternative methods.

Additionally, DePalo and Miller argue that the tax revenue generated by the sale of cannabis would help Shrewsbury’s local government, as they have a limited non-residential tax revenue stream.

It is difficult to know with certainty whether the citizens of Shrewsbury will capitulate to the will of their contemporaries, or circumvent the law and create a parochial, cannabis-free sanctuary. There has not been a referendum vote scheduled, however in the event that one is held, two-thirds of Shrewsbury’s residents will have to vote in favor of prohibition.

The resistance of Shrewsbury to the political will of their contemporaries is emblematic of a larger political trend occurring in this country that could potentially undermine and subvert the evolution of the cannabis legalization movement.

The past five years have demonstrated the feasibility of cannabis reform. After Colorado legalized the cultivation, distribution, and use of the drug for recreational purposes, several other states followed suit. As of today, eight states have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

The political momentum generated by these aforementioned states has beguiled many cannabis advocates into thinking that federal legalization is an imminent inevitability. Unfortunately, their mid-decade winning streak has maddened and provoked their adversaries. At the local and national level, critics of cannabis are forming resistance movements.

In California, a state that operated as a vanguard to the medical cannabis movement, many cities and towns have adopted anti-cannabis measures analogous to those that Selectmen Kane and Casavant are advocating for in Shrewsbury.

For instance, Orange County, California’s third largest county, has had the sale of cannabis outlawed in 32 of its 34 cities. Even in Los Angeles County, a bastion of cosmopolitan values, the sale of cannabis is outlawed in 66 of 88 cities.

These debates concerning the allowance of retail sales are more consequential than they seem. At stake are millions of dollars in potential tax revenue, desperately needed by state governments, that could be generated by the sale of cannabis.

The widespread acceptance and integration of legal cannabis is not a foregone conclusion. Given the aforementioned resistance in one of America’s reformist states, it is gratuitous to imagine the type of resistance advocates of cannabis will face in states that traditionally have a more punitive stance towards the drug and its users.

Powerful voices in the Trump administration have tapped into the hearts and minds of the many Americans who feel ambivalent towards the relaxation of cannabis laws. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently motioned to rescind Obama-era policies related to federal oversight of legal cannabis sales. This revision enables federal prosecutors to enforce prohibitive policies in states where cannabis is legal.

For the entirety of his legal and political career, Sessions has crusaded against cannabis with the fervor of a religious zealot. He sincerely believes that the drug causes our country’s most complex social ills.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that prescription drugs cause and accelerate our nation’s opioid problem, Sessions recently suggested the cannabis is to blame for the proliferation of opioid use.

From Shrewsbury to Capitol Hill, impassioned critics are mounting and sustaining a political attack on the relaxation of cannabis laws. The successes of the legalization movement over the past five years are worthy of recognition and praise; however, it is imperative that cannabis advocates avoid the trap of political complacency.

Political accomplishments spur oppositional activity oriented towards disembedding and undermining change. In order to maintain their momentum, cannabis advocates must recognize that their most difficult work may lie ahead.



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Legal Weed Faces Resistance at All Bureaucratic Levels