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Did a Massachusetts Senate Panel Mislead Voters About Legalization?

Cannabis supporters in the legalization-battleground state of Massachusetts are pushing back against a state Senate report, claiming its “misconstrued statistics and unfounded speculation” have misinformed voters about legalization in the lead-up to November’s election.

The report, published in March, was the result of Colorado trip taken by members of the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana to see the legal cannabis industry for themselves. After roughly a year of work, the Herald News reports, the committee released a report that was highly critical of the Massachusetts ballot measure, Question 4.

“The Report covers a wide range of important issues,” begins the Yes on 4 campaign’s rebuttal, released this week, “but however well-intentioned, it is flawed because it contains inaccuracies and speculative conclusions concerning the implications of regulating recreational marijuana.”

The lawmaker who led the Senate committee, Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) is now part of a steering committee for the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, a group formed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.

That coalition of officials has lobbed questionable claims at legalization, too, arguing that cannabis is a “gateway drug” and warning that legalization would lead to more teens consuming cannabis and could worsen the state’s opioid epidemic. Based on available evidence, none of those claims is true.

Voters at the polls next month, it continued, “Voters at the polls in November should base their decisions on facts and sound policy arguments rather than the misconstrued statistics and unfounded speculation of misinformed public officials,” the Yes campaign said.

Lewis, for his part, released a statement saying that he was “confident that we produced a thorough, comprehensive, fair and balanced report.” The rebuttal, he said, was “authored by a law firm who is a hired gun for the commercial cannabis industry.”

Observers across the country are watching to see how Massachusetts voters decide Question 4. Travel writer and PBS host Rick Steves is in the state this week talking to audiences about what he’s seen in his home state of Washington as well as other legal states, such as Colorado and Oregon. On Wednesday the mild-mannered 51-year-old levied a harsh criticism of Massachusetts lawmakers.

When it comes to cannabis, he told a crowd in Boston, “Your legislators don’t have the courage to learn about it.”

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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