A recent report that Boston leads the nation in marijuana use seemed to be greeted more with laughter than concern. "Hub goes to pot," the Boston Herald's front-page headline screamed, "We are the highest city in the U.S!"
Other media outlets reacted with a similar mix of bemusement and civic pride at the news from a federal agency that 12 percent of Massachusetts adults had smoked marijuana within the last month. The reaction is perhaps unsurprising, given the numbers. If that many residents are regular users of an illegal drug, it's hard to paint it as a serious threat.
The problem is that the law takes it seriously indeed. According to the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, more than 2,100 people are arrested each year in Massachusetts for marijuana possession, costing taxpayers some $24 million - some reports place the number at about 7,000 people. The idea that people don't go to jail for marijuana is a myth: Across the country there are thousands of people serving time for getting caught doing what 12 percent of metro Boston residents did in the last month.
As a general rule, when a law is that commonly violated, there's a problem with the law. State legislators, typically too afraid of being called "soft on drugs" to even entertain reform of marijuana laws, should take a lesson from the rate of marijuana use and the less-than-alarmed response to it. Arresting, trying and locking up people for possession of a drug used safely by millions of people is no laughing matter.