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Expert Source: Marijuana Legalization

Richard McGowan

Finance Associate Professor of the Practice Father Richard McGowan, SJ
Carroll School of Management
Boston College
(617) 552-3474 (office)
(617) 913-7214

Professor McGowan is a nationally recognized expert on legalized gaming, tobacco and alcohol industries. His research focuses on the interaction of the business and public policy processes. Father McGowan has written the books Privatize This?; State Lotteries and Legalized Gambling: Painless Revenue or Painful Mirage; Industry as a Player in the Social and Political Arenas, and Government and the Transformation of the Gaming Industry, The Gambling Problem. His upcoming book is titled The Tale of Two Sins: Gambling and Tobacco and will focus on how these two industries have fared very differently in the eyes of public policy makers. Fr. McGowan has also served as a research associate at Harvard Medical, Division on Addictions.


Once deemed an illegal drug, marijuana has been approved in two more states for recreational use. And proponents say they’ll continue their drumbeat until the national prohibition against pot has been abolished.

“It’s the triumph of what I call the ‘ethics of tolerance,’" says Boston College Finance Associate Professor of the Practice Fr. Richard McGowan, S.J., a national expert on marijuana. “In other words, people think you should be able to do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm somebody else. It reinforces our individualism.”

Voters in Oregon and Alaska said yes to allowing the recreational use of marijuana and join Colorado and Washington state, which approved that kind of use in the past two years. Voters in Washington D.C. also said yes to marijuana but the measure needs final approval from Congress.

“I equate what’s going on with marijuana to exactly what went on with gambling,” says Fr. McGowan, whose research focuses on the interaction of the business and public policy processes as they relate to the tobacco industry. “If the neighboring states start doing it then it’s easier to accept. Notice Washington State is next to Oregon and those two are near Colorado.

“I think it’s a wave. It’s exactly what went on with gambling - it’s going to become a state issue and it’s going to be done state by state and often. Fifty years ago you had one state with the lottery, now you have 42 states with lotteries, and I will guarantee you in 50 years, the vast majority of states will have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.”

The only barrier to that, says Fr. McGowan, is if marijuana is seen as a gateway drug.

“If it ends up showing that marijuana really is a gateway drug – that if you allow too many people to smoke marijuana, they go into other drugs - then you’re going to see people look at this and say ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do that’,” says Fr. McGowan, whose upcoming book, The Tale of Two Sins: Gambling and Tobacco will focus on how these two industries have fared very differently in the eyes of public policy makers. “Right now, most medical authorities don’t think it’s a gateway drug.”

While almost two dozen states allow for the medicinal use of marijuana, Fr. McGowan sees inherent problems with monitoring the overuse of the drug, such as detecting whether someone is driving while impaired by pot.

“Unless a police officer pulls you over, he really doesn’t have a test yet to see if you’re driving high,” says Fr. McGowan. “So they would have to testify instead that they think you were impaired. Legally, that’s going to be interesting as to how that all holds up in court whereas clearly with alcohol, they can do a blood alcohol content test and see. Right now there’s no test like that for marijuana.”



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Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)