By Andrew Tyrrell, Managing Editor
Last week, I discussed the ballot questions dealing with adding another slots casino in Revere and the issue of animal confinement on farms, as well as the sale of products from such animals.
This week, we’ll talk about the last two questions on the ballot, yet again in the order of what I believe is least to most important.
For question four, let’s talk about marijuana. Mary Jane. Weed. Dank Kush.
Let’s be real here: this is a newspaper written by college students, largely for college students, who, by and large, support the legalization of marijuana.
This publication covered question four in a previous issue, where my colleagues Jacob Condo and Alex Solari debated the merits of legalizing marijuana. Here, I will attempt to take a more objective look before offering my own opinion.
Marijuana is a schedule 1 drug. This is a classification from the DEA that also applies to drugs such as heroin, LSD, mescaline, MDMA (commonly referred to as ecstasy or Molly), and psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms).
Medical marijuana is already legal in Massachusetts. Of the few studies that have been conducted (and according to the documentary WEED, only 6% of studies on marijuana analyze its medicinal properties) most have shown that marijuana does have a positive effect on patients when used medically.
Though its efficacy may be limited to only a handful of conditions, according to a publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it does have merit as medicine.
Studies published by the American Psychological As-sociation have also shown that when consumed before turning eighteen, marijuana can have a negative effect on mental development.
There is also the very real, very serious issue of how to deal with people operating a vehicle under the influence. Unlike alcohol, there is no breathalyzer or field sobriety test available for marijuana, and if this drug is overused, it can also have an adverse effect on memory and emotions and can lead to dependency.
A “yes” vote would, of course, mean that marijuana would be legalized in the state, and a “no” vote would keep it so that it can only be used for medicinal purposes. If legalized, here’s what actually happens.
Marijuana would only be legal for adults over the age of twenty-one and there would be a limit of one ounce of dried marijuana or five grams of concentrate that anyone could have on their person in public. There would be a limit of up to nine ounces possessed in the home, and it would have to be locked in a safe. Gifts of up to one ounce would be acceptable.
With the exception of a ban imposed by a municipality, any town or city can have a marijuana store. The maximum number of stores would be 20% of liquor stores in that municipality; local government can set a lower number.
The first licenses to potential store owners would be issued in January, 2018, with preference going to those who already hold a medical marijuana dispensary license. There would also be a new Cannabis Control Commission who would issue licenses.
If the new CCC is unable to do so, then dispensaries will automatically be allowed to grow, package, ship, and sell their product within the state.
Other things of importance are that the tax on marijuana would be 12%; residents would be allowed to grow up to six plants in their homes, with a maximum of twelve plants per household; public consumption of marijuana would be pro-hibited; all containers would be child proof; labels on containers would include all important information such as THC content; and, if it were an edible, what an appropriate serving size would be.
I plan on voting “yes”. I believe that any adult should be allowed to put into their body what they choose, and the law is written in such a way as to provide maximum protection for children and information for adults who wish to consume marijuana.
Unfortunately, because of marijuana’s schedule 1 status, it is nearly impossible to conduct effective research. Go on Google and type in the benefits and negative effects of marijuana; all you’ll find are conflicting reports.
Neither side of the debate is exactly right, but it is my view that there is less reason to maintain a prohibition on a drug that is frankly less harmful to the user than any of its schedule 1 counterparts. It also does not carry the same negative side effects of alcohol or tobacco consumption, which almost inevitably include cirrhosis, liver disease, heart disease, or cancer.
Question two, however, seems to be the most important, because it deals with education. Education is the key to sustained improvement and advancement in society. Without it, we are nothing.
I grew up very lucky in that my parents paid an arm and a leg for me to attend private, parochial schools until I started college. They did this because of the failings of public education.
Question two deals with charter schools. For those who don’t know, a charter school is basically a publically funded school but with a private curriculum. A charter school doesn’t have to deal with the same bullshit as your local public high school when it comes to state standards. Therefore, charter schools are highly desirable as an alternative to the public option.
If passed, question two would raise the cap on charter schools that can be run in the Commonwealth. The cap is currently set at 120; no more than that amount of charter schools can operate in the state.
I’ve already touched upon one side of the argument: charter schools are an inexpensive alternative to the public option. They are generally more effective, particularly in cities and towns with struggling public schools, like Fall River and New Bedford, in educating their students to a decent standard.
If your child can attend a charter school and obtain the same level of education as another student does at a parochial school, all while being funded with taxpayer dollars, then why not do it?
And there’s the second half of the argument: taxpayer dollars. There is a widely held belief that charter schools drain funding from public schools.
In fact, according to a WBUR poll, 46% of people believe that charters drain funding from public schools, whereas 38% disagree, and 15% are unsure. This belief is fallacious at best.
When the state allocates money, it does so on a per-pupil basis. That means the money goes with the student. This is sometimes referred to as average daily attendance; money is allocated based on how many students go to that school. Currently, only about 4% of the student population of Massachusetts attends a charter school.
A “yes” vote would allow the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to raise the cap by twelve charters each year, or allow up to that same amount to expand. This would go into effect January 1, 2017. A “no” vote would keep the cap as is.
I plan on voting no. First of all, no public school is actually losing money to charter schools. They’re still publically funded, and nationwide it costs less on average to educate a student at a charter school, so taxpayers are actually saving money.
However, the current number of charters in the state is 78. There’s no reason to raise the cap yet when we’re still 42 charters away from hitting the current limit.
I’m also a pragmatist. That plays into my previous point of reasoning. I have no issue with there being alternatives to the public option. Charter schools and parochial schools are great. Voucher programs are great. But those do require public funding. 4% isn’t much, but that’s still 4% that isn’t going into public schools.
It is the duty of the government to provide education to its citizens; alternatives should be a last resort, not a focus, which is what question two, in my view, aims to do. It aims to focus on increasing the number of charter schools instead of just making the public schools we already have better.
The election is November 8, 2016, and the last day to register has now passed. You can register for future elections or check your registration here.
If you want to read about the ballot questions in full, you can read the petitions here.
Rhode Island residents can find information on their ballot questions, voter registration, polling locations, and more here.