Defining recreational

Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana. Now Massachusetts communities are wrestling with questions of how and where the drug should be consumed. Simply put, Lynn, Peabody and other cities and towns across the state are trying to define exactly what “recreational” means in regards to the legal use of marijuana.

A Lynn City Council discussion on recreational marijuana fell to the wayside when Tuesday’s blizzard hit. But Mother Nature can’t keep local councilors and their counterparts across the state from avoiding the question: How recreational is legal marijuana use going to be?

When voters legalized a drug that once sent people to jail if they were caught with it, they opened a dialogue about marijuana use. Legalization proponents initially set their sights on medicinal marijuana and successfully made a case for legalizing marijuana for medical use.

Proponents and opponents of legalization alike knew the next debate and battleground over the drug would be legalization for recreational use. Insisting a drug has recreational value is to suggest its use is sufficiently prevalent and socially acceptable for people to ask for — no, demand — places where they can use it recreationally.

It’s easy to equate changing views about marijuana use with alcohol use but the comparisons are somewhat contradictory. In arguing for its legalization, some proponents pointed out marijuana is not like alcohol and argued the end result of ingesting cannabis is not a release of inhibitions that potentially leads to socially unacceptable behavior, including dangerous driving or violence.

The social acceptance argument in favor of marijuana more closely resembled a discussion about lifestyle choices with proponents claiming marijuana use is a choice responsible adults make and it is a choice that should allow those same adults to responsibly use marijuana in semi-public settings.

That is an option that many municipal leaders aren’t willing to accept. Peabody has drawn the line on private club and hotel marijuana use and the debate emerging in Lynn is focused more on where recreational marijuana should be prohibited rather than where it should be allowed.

Proponents aren’t naive enough to think a statewide vote legalizing marijuana was simply going to put the recreational use question to rest. A large number of people who voted in favor of legalization probably stood in a voting booth and said to themselves, “Hey, what do I care if someone smokes pot or eat cannabis brownies? They’re not bothering me.”

That is relatively benign and semi-sound logic, but it obviously isn’t translating well into public policy when it comes to the recreational marijuana location discussion. The bottom line is that people may not care if the person behind them in the grocery store line smokes pot in private. But they may not like to smell burning marijuana wafting out of someone’s car and they probably don’t like the idea of having a recreational marijuana club or whatever proprietors want to call it on their street or even in their neighborhood.

The bottom line is the courts will probably be the place where public policy on recreational marijuana use gets hashed (pun intended) out. Marijuana may be legal but social definitions on its acceptable use may well be years away from becoming the norm.

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