hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial October 2016



Raids show the failure of marijuana prohibition

The military-style helicopter hovered low over a house in Amherst, Mass., last month, its blades whirring as two men crouched in its open doorway, apparently aiming a thermal-imaging device at the back yard below.

Within 10 minutes, several law enforcement vehicles arrived at the home, and State Police collected the illegal contraband they had found: a single marijuana plant grown by an 81-year-old woman who later told a reporter she consumes marijuana to help with her glaucoma and to ease the pain of her arthritis.

The Sept. 21 raid at the home of Margaret Holcomb, detailed in a story in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, was one of a series carried out last month by Massachusetts State Police with the aid of National Guard helicopter. On Sept. 21 alone, the helicopter paid a visit to at least six other properties in Amherst, Hadley and Northampton, collecting a total of 44 pot plants that police say were in plain view from the air. Similar raids were reported elsewhere around the Pioneer Valley last month.

None of the landowners in the Sept. 21 raids was charged with any crime. Which raises the obvious question: If no crime worthy of prosecuting was taking place, even at the properties where pot plants were found, could there possibly be any justification for using military tactics to peer into people’s back yards and then confront them in their homes?

It is hard to believe that in 2016, the State Police would be going to such lengths – and using so many government resources -- for the sake of confiscating a plant that many people no longer regard as a even the slightest hazard to public safety, that some believe has medicinal value, and that many others see as a nuisance at worst. The state’s voters, after all, overwhelmingly backed decriminalization of marijuana in 2008 – and creation of the state’s medical marijuana program in 2012.

Now, as our cover story in this issue details, marijuana is headed back to the voters. Question 4 on the November ballot asks whether to legalize marijuana possession for adults over 21 – and to regulate and tax commercial sales of the drug, putting it on a legal par with alcohol. If voters approve the plan, the state would join four others that already have legalized pot – and perhaps as many as four more that vote on legalization Nov. 8.

The issue also is being debated in Vermont, where the state Senate approved a legalization bill earlier this year, only to see it die in the House. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, who led the crafting of the Senate bill, has pledged to try again when the next legislative session convenes in January.

To be fair, legalization hasn’t gone off entirely without a hitch in the states that have already approved it, and opponents in Massachusetts have raised reasonable concerns, based on Colorado’s experience, about the proliferation of marijuana “edibles” – products that sometimes have a candy-like appearance and might prove tempting to children. But the Massachusetts ballot proposition would give state regulators the power to decide what types of marijuana products could sold commercially – and how.

Voting Yes on legalization likely means more people using marijuana, perhaps when they shouldn’t. But it’s clear that lots of people already are consuming marijuana – and that a No vote would continue a failed policy of prohibition, enforced unevenly and occasionally with tactics like the raid at Margaret Holcomb’s house.

© October 2016 Cartoon Mark Wilson HCO


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