There’s not a lot for pot advocates to celebrate in Boston this 4.20. Though the opening of local medical cannabis dispensaries is somewhere in sight, it is increasingly clear that municipal officials and authorities will fight implementation all the way to the ribbon-cutting, if not longer. Just this past week, newly elected Mayor Marty Walsh–by most means a progressive on other fronts–stepped high onto a soapbox to declare he’s “made it very clear to the state that [he doesn't] want these dispensaries in our city.” This coming shortly after the City Council already veered to the far-right of its initial path to facilitate the voter-approved operations, and instead set progress back months with a theatrical hearing marked by Eisenhower Era levels of intense reefer madness.
Though his recent screeds triggered blowback, it’s hardly news that Walsh is sour on pot. Six years ago, at a State House hearing on marijuana decriminalization, then-state Rep. Walsh freakishly detached from his typical cool and reasonable self, and launched into an all-out unsubstantiated spiel about weed being “a gateway drug” and a step toward “heroin or Oxycontin” abuse. Without citing a single study or statistic, Walsh went so far as to concede his unfamiliarity with the specifics of said ballot initiative, and even derided the proposal as “one of those pieces of legislation that just doesn’t make sense.” “There is no one sitting in our jails today who was arrested for an ounce of marijuana,” Walsh incorrectly claimed in his emotional rant, which also linked cannabis to “mental institutions, or death.”
If there weren’t so many lives at stake, it might be excusable for Walsh to play the anti-pot equivalent of a global warming denier who cites February’s polar vortex in dismissing scientific evidence. Sadly, though, news of his impenetrably hard position against weed came the same week as revelations that the city’s sole public methadone provider may soon shutter, only to be replaced by yet another private clinic like Habit OPCO Inc., that particular likely contender a holding of the Boston-based private equity firm Bain Capital. With thousands dead from overdoses and no end to suffering in sight–in a region that’s an annual contender for the most heroin and Oxy deaths in the country–our politicians are fighting medical marijuana nonprofits head-on, while leaving a blood-sucking subsidiary of Bain, the liquidation farm Mitt Romney helped found, to solve the opiate crisis.
Shocking as these developments may seem under a liberal mayor in blue Boston, the arrangement shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. For advisory help in finding municipal care solutions, the city tapped the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, which proudly boasts collaboration “with public and private organizations to broaden health coverage.” You don’t have to be a conspiracy enthusiast to presume that advice from Blue Cross Blue Shield is predisposed to favoring privatization; the foundation’s chair, Philip W. Johnston, is the president of Philip W. Johnston Associates, an affiliate of the Quincy-based Capitol Consulting Group that counts among its clients corporate drug and healthcare interests such as Novo Nordisk and Pfizer.
The current health and marijuana care confusion around Boston is ironic for several reasons, starting with Walsh’s public lambasting of pot reform at a church in the black community, the likes of which have disproportionately suffered as a result of stiff penalties for nonviolent drug use, and are now being pandered to and exploited by a few stubborn prohibitionist holdouts. On top of that, Walsh himself is a recovering alcoholic whose knowledge of addiction services is generally impressive. Until he faces facts and distinguishes between nonlethal cannabis and prescription poison, though, ironic drug policies will continue to impede community healing; while the mayor has pledged $300,000 to jump-start a new Office of Recovery Services to “help those fighting addiction navigate the city’s available resources, and advocate for treatment options,” it’s becoming clear that available resources are now dwindling, while feasible treatment providers (i.e. marijuana dispensaries) are facing obstacles.
Among about a million other official Hub happenings last week regarding everything from Boston Marathon prep to a $2.7 billion operating budget proposal, the Walsh administration also announced the formation of an ethics committee for the purpose of, among other things, ensuring that “citizens of Boston and those who interact with our government should be absolutely confident that their government is working for them, at the highest ethical standards.” Perhaps that body will direct the mayor to peruse material including: the American Journal on Addictions showing that “objective ratings of opiate withdrawal decrease in [methadone] patients using cannabis;” the Journal of Neuroscience report showing “CBD may be a potential treatment for heroin craving and relapse;” or any number of other comparable studies. Otherwise, City Hall officials will be doing much more for Bain Capital than they are for addicts.