It’s election day eve, as the nation ponders Clinton vs. Trump, which way the senate will swing, and countless other anxiety provoking questions about the future. Massachusetts voters will weigh in on Ballot Question 4, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana. The Boston Globe – which published in Op-Ed supporting a yes on 4 vote – has an interesting run-down of a number of points to consider. A number of states, most famously Colorado, have already given recreational pot the green light at the ballot box. That effort has led numerous positive benefits, including reinvestment of $8 million of marijuana tax revenues in youth use prevention initiatives. And, science’s answer on whether marijuana is in fact a “gateway drug” is a resounding maybe.
Other countries, notably Holland and Portugal, have legalized marijuana and other drugs in a shift toward treating addiction as a public health problem. Portugal legalized all drugs in 2001, and the subsequent empirical data there suggest no adverse effects on drug use rates. Many progressive and treatment advocates strongly support this approach, as do social justice advocates who favor treatment over incarceration for non-violent drug offenders. Elected officials in Massachusetts, including Governor Baker and Mayor Walsh, have opposed the measure. How to answer what the optimal approach is for addiction, and what the implications are for substance abuse treatment, are interesting questions worthy of continued debate and meticulous study.
In our experience helping addicts on the path to recovery, our clients who have wanted marijuana have not had trouble in finding it. Legalization would be unlikely to drastically alter the picture in terms of access here. Furthermore, we have worked with clients struggling with addictions who hold legal prescriptions for marijuana that has been prescribed as an anti-anxiety therapy. This is possible in Massachusetts due to the legal grey area where marijuana currently resides – it can be prescribed medically, and is decriminalized for possession and private use in small quantities. While we follow the brain science approach and generally recommend that our clients abstain from marijuana while battling any addiction, we also have to meet clients where they are. For teen clients, it is especially important to present information on the detrimental effects chronic marijuana use can have on the developing brain.
If clients hold a prescription for marijuana and are unwilling to stop using it, but are willing to tackle other problems, we support them in their chosen path to recovery. Recovery is not a black and white matter for everyone, and a step in the right direction should be celebrated as better than no step at all. While some in the profession would simply call this being at step zero, we have learned through experience that a nuanced approach that reflects each client’s self conception works best for us.
In sum, we do not see either outcome of this ballot measure changing the overall picture for addiction, or our approach to supporting clients on the road to recovery. As with all ballot measures, we live in a democratic society, and each individual must do their own research and vote whichever way they feel comfortable.