License to Buzzkill

By Colin Kingsbury | Boston Magazine |

Then there’s medicinal marijuana. To date, 16 states have legalized it, including our New England neighbors Maine, Vermont, and Rhode Island, as well as the home states of both members of the 2008 Republican presidential ticket. And none of these states has descended into chaos yet. Actually, they’ve been pulling in impressive amounts of tax revenue from the regulated sale of pot. The standard objection to medical marijuana in our state is that even the smallest crack in the law banning herb will promote recreational use. Let’s pretend for a moment that that’s true. So what? Surveys have consistently shown that Bay Staters strongly favor full-on legalization. In fact, in a 65 to 35 percent landslide, we voted in 2008 to decriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of weed. The voters are thankfully well ahead of both Governor Patrick, who opposed the ballot initiative, and the lawmakers whocontinue submitting bills to reinstitute criminal penalties for pot. It’s a travesty for the legislature to waste time on prohibitions that voters have rejected.

But if we can’t drink or smoke in our liberal state, at least we can get wild in the sack, right? Sure — if you’re married, straight, and not the least bit kinky. State law still bans adultery, anal sex (“the abominable and detestable crime against nature”), and the sale or giving away of sex toys (“instruments of self-abuse”). While blue laws like these are often viewed as harmless relics, they’ve been strategically enforced as recently as 2000, when Attleboro police crashed a private party and found 50 consenting adults in leather, latex, and a variety of salacious positions. Besides the aforementioned sex-toy law, the party’s organizer was charged with running a house of ill repute because he took donations to cover expenses, while a thirtysomething businesswoman was booked for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for some alleged paddling. The evidence: one large wooden spatula.

In the end, “Paddleboro” led to nothing so much as a field day for headline writers, but while the charges of egregious spooning were quickly dismissed, prosecutors forced the party host to go to court —  where he easily beat the prostitution and sex-toy charges. Aside from legal costs that ran into the tens of thousands, it’s no small matter to have the cops drag your name all over the Web. And while the laws behind it all are almost certainly unconstitutional, they remain on the books. To say that these laws are rarely enforced misses the point that even unenforced statutes cast a shadow, and leaving it all to prosecutorial discretion is, in some ways, a kind of tyranny.

BOOZERS, POTHEADS, and spatula-wielding dominatrixes might not be the most sympathetic cast of legislative subjects, but they present both an opportunity and a responsibility for our extravagantly liberal leaders. If progressives want to cackle with delight every time some Republican family-man senator gets caught playing footsie in an airport men’s room, then they need to live up to the values they profess in their fundraising e-mails and actually start passing laws to grant us more freedom, not less.

Furthermore, in the competition to attract top-flight professionals who can build great success stories in the city and state, one of our biggest liabilities is the widespread sense that, well, we’re a bit uptight around here. In recent years, Boston has experienced net out-migration, with some of the most popular destinations being cities like Seattle, Austin, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Happy hour may not be the only thing they have on us, but we’re probably not going to cut taxes, and we’re certainly not going to do anything about the weather. Legalizing medical marijuana, paring back arbitrary rules on alcohol, and clarifying the laws to leave consenting adults alone may not solve all our problems, but it just might make a few people think twice about what a bunch of killjoys we are, and who knows — it might even get us to loosen up a bit.


  • Frederick

    The tendency to pass extreme and outrageously restrictive laws on personal behavior is not limited to any political party. With one magic phrase: “Think of the children!”, plaintively mewled to the television cameras, you can force the cash-strapped MBTA to pull alcohol ads (despite ZERO evidence this will have any effect on supposed child alcoholism rates), you can ban happy hours, late night hours for taco stands in Downtown Crossing, or just about anything else you want to ban, forbid, or restrict. Consequences to personal liberty, to the economy, or to rational thought be damned. The complete and total safety, real or imagined, of these precious, helpless, eternally vulnerable and infernally indulged little bundles must take precedence.