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Faith leaders rally against commercial marijuana

Posted: 11/3/2016

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Cardinal O'Malley speaks at a rally of faith leaders opposing ballot Question 4 at Deliverance Temple Worship Center in Dorchester, Nov. 1. (Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy)

DORCHESTER -- Faith leaders from the greater Boston area were joined by Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh at a Nov. 1 in Dorchester to voice their opposition to Massachusetts ballot Question 4, which would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state.

The gathering, held at Deliverance Temple Worship Center on Columbia Road, followed the release of a statement signed by nearly 150 local faith leaders urging voters to reject Question 4, and saying that recreational marijuana would lead to untold social, health and safety concerns for Massachusetts.

Faith leaders who were signatories to the statement reiterated those concerns at the rally.

Rev. Arlene O. Hall, the pastor of Deliverance Temple, voiced concerns that the marijuana industry wishes Question 4 to pass to be able to profit at the expense of others, particularly those will less political pull.

"By what we are seeing, what always get(s) lost in these decisions, is the fact that black and brown people, poor people, those in the urban core like where we are today, those least politically powerful, will suffer the worst of this new freedom," she said.

Rev. Hall said marijuana use can lead to addiction, and those who are the most vulnerable in society, like children, can get sucked up in it. She urged voters to vote against the initiative.

Rev. Janice Ford of The Church of Reconciliation in Webster and president of Reconciliation House, a sober house for men in Webster, said she has seen firsthand what addiction can lead to.

"The issue of legalizing recreational marijuana is problematic for a whole litany of reasons, but mainly because it can make its use as a means of self-medication more available to both young people and adults alike," she said.

She cautioned that, while people under the age of 21 would be barred from being able to legally purchase marijuana were the initiative to pass, "it is foolish, unrealistic and irresponsible to believe that marijuana kept in any form in the home won't become an irresistible temptation for (youth)."

"As citizens, we should be focused on helping the people of the Commonwealth, particularly those at the highest risk, to develop healthy ways to deal with the stress and chaos of life, and not to foster or support delusion, unreliable, and flat out unhealthy options," said Rev. Ford.

Executive director of the Islamic Council of New England, Dr. Nabeel Khudairi, began his remarks by citing a passage from the Quran, which speaks about the dangers of gambling and intoxicants.

The passage is particularly relevant to the Massachusetts ballot because of Question 4, as well as Question 1, which seeks to authorize a second slots location in the state.

"The solutions to modern issues can be found in the Gospels, the Torah, the Quran, and in other Holy Books," said Khudairi.

"Democracy gives us the right to choose, but morality gives us the logical reasoning with our choices," he continued.

He said that marijuana alters the mind, and can lead to its users to making poor or harmful decisions.

"Islam is against intoxicants because you can't make the best choices possible for yourself when your mind has been altered by mind poison," he said.

In his remarks, Cardinal O'Malley called marijuana a gateway drug, saying "it cannot be our response to the opioid crisis in Massachusetts."

He said he used to serve as a prison chaplain, as a priest in the inner city of Washington, D.C., and then also as bishop of the West Indies. In each of these places, Cardinal O'Malley said, he saw the damage marijuana can cause.

"In each of those venues, I saw what drugs did to my people. I saw how marijuana was so often the initiation into a life of drugs," he said.

The cardinal also referenced Colorado, which legalized and commercialized the drug in 2014, citing some of the problems the state has seen since then.

"We see that Colorado is the number one state for teen underage marijuana use. We also see the increased dangers on the road," he said.

"Even in Massachusetts we had the terrible case of Officer Clardy being killed by someone driving allegedly under the influence of marijuana," he continued, recalling the death of State Trooper Thomas Clardy, who was killed earlier this year.

Noting that marijuana is already decriminalized in the state, Cardinal O'Malley noted that the legislation isn't really about just making the drug legal, but is more "about the commercialization, bringing billions of dollars' worth of dangerous drugs into the Commonwealth."

"The commercialization of marijuana will only add to human suffering," he added.

Speaking after the faith leaders, Mayor Walsh also highlighted the problems that commercializing marijuana would have on the state, noting that "this Question sets up no cap for the number of pot stores, pot farms, pot factories in any of our communities."

"This question, as written, would mandate cities and towns to allow at least one pot stop for every five liquor stores," he continued.

In Boston alone, that would be mean at least 48 pot shops would open, the mayor said.

Shops are "going to cover every single corner of this city, people need to realize that. In every neighborhood in the city. Not just some neighborhoods in the city, in every neighborhood in the city," he said.

He likened the marijuana industry to "sharks looking at prey," and recalled how, just that morning, he called a parent "who lost their child due to the use of alcohol and drugs."

It's a phone call he has made many times, the mayor said, and is one of the chief reasons he is opposed to legalizing the use of recreational marijuana.

"I don't think there's ever been a ballot question that I've been more opposed to than ... Question 4," he said.

Gov. Baker concluded the event, and in his remarks he cited the experience of the State of Colorado.

"Measuring, monitoring, overseeing all the issues associated with recreational marijuana is a task that even the folks in Colorado, who are now two or three years into it, say is almost impossible to keep up with," Gov. Baker continued.

The governor called the 6,000 word piece of legislation "a mess," noting that it was "written by the corporate recreational marijuana industry for the corporate recreational marijuana industry."

He voiced concerns that if the initiative passes, it will be the poorer communities that will be most negatively impacted.

"I do share, among other things, a concern about where all this retail activity will take place. In wealthier communities, I guarantee you, people will find legal representation and other means to prevent these dispensaries from opening in their communities," Gov. Baker said.

Additionally, he said, there is no way of knowing the problems passing this initiative may cause in the future, and so, "on some level, this is the ultimate leap of faith." If passed, it would be difficult to go up against the marijuana industry to reverse the legislation, Gov. Baker continued.

He noted that almost "every major community I can think of that touches this issue is either neutral on it or has come out against it."

"For all of these communities the message has been the same. We want to be part of building strong communities from one end of the commonwealth to the other, and what we see in this is a huge step in the opposite direction," said the governor.