Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse has become the first mayor in Massachusetts to announce support for legalizing recreational marijuana, a stand that puts him at odds with other mayors and elected officials across the state.
Morse announced he plans to vote “yes” on question 4 on the Massachusetts election ballot this November which, if passed, would legalize recreational marijuana use for those 21 and older and authorize creating a system of retail marijuana stores, cultivating facilities, and manufacturers of edible products.
" This is a larger statement too that the war on drugs and marijuana in particular just hasn't worked," said Morse.
He said decades of efforts to limit the availability of marijuana had resulted only in the disproportionate arrests of minorities.
" And so in Massachusetts alone, communities of color are four-times more likely to get arrested for marijuana use compared with their white counterparts," said Morse.
The Democrat, who was elected to a third two-year term as Holyoke mayor last year, said he did not fear legalizing marijuana would worsen the state’s opioid addiction crisis.
" In fact in those places were recreational marijuana is legal they have seen decreases in ( drug) overdose deaths," said Morse citing a 2014 American Medical Association report.
Morse also admitted the potential revenue from a legal marijuana industry is attractive to him as he struggles to manage his city’s finances. The referendum language calls for a 3.75 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales in addition to the state’s regular 6.25 percent sales tax. Also, municipalities could levy an additional 2 percent tax that cities and towns would keep.
Morse is the first, and so far only, mayor in the state to endorse legalizing recreational marijuana. His stand is counter to that of the state’s top politicians, Democrat and Republican, who have come out against it.
" That doesn't bother me," Morse said when asked about being out of step with most of the state's political establishment. " I think I have built a reputation of that over the last five years, where I want to do what is right, and what is right for our community."
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has spoken out against legalizing recreational marijuana. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said he draws the line at medical marijuana use.
" So the medical marijuana, no problem. We are helping people in need. But the legalization of marijuana is not something I agree with," Sarno said earlier this year.
Massachusetts voters in 2008 decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2012, voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana. Democratic Attorney General Maura Healy is among those imploring voters not to take the next step this year.
" I hope that voters see fit to say 'not now, not at this time'," Healey said.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert DeLeo have joined a campaign committee to oppose question 4.
Morse, in an interview Monday, said he was unsure if he would take an active part in the campaign to pass question 4.
" I concluded I thought this was best for Holyoke and the state of Massachusetts, but I have not personally decided how involved I will get in this particular question," he said.
Morse, 27, may be out of step with the state’s political establishment when it comes to the question of legalizing recreational marijuana, but it seems he’s in agreement with others of his generation. A poll last spring by Western New England University found 74 percent of voters age 18-39 support legalizing marijuana.