Boston Braces for Bud Vote: Massachusetts Legalization Preview

Courtney Tanner 7 Nov 2016

BOSTON, Mass. — Question 4, otherwise known as the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, proposes the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. If it becomes law tomorrow, Massachusetts will join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia in legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.

First and foremost, the law would remove all penalties related to the cultivation, distribution, and transportation of marijuana. Further, Question 4 would allow Massachusetts residents to possess up to one ounce of marijuana on their person, possess up to 10 ounces within their residence, and grow up to six plants on private property. It also decriminalizes the cultivation, storage, and transfer of hemp as well as any marijuana by-products.

From the Regulate Massachusetts website

Question 4 also outlines the need for a new regulatory committee, referred to in the ballot language as the Cannabis Control Commission. The commission would “adopt regulations governing licensing qualifications; security; record keeping; health and safety standards; packaging and labeling; testing; advertising and displays; required inspections; and such other matters as the Commission considers appropriate.”

Further, the ballot outlines that the Cannabis Advisory Board, which will consist of fifteen members appointed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, will oversee the operations of the Cannabis Control Commission. 

Should Question 4 pass, the ballot suggests that cities and towns regulate the manner in which they incorporate marijuana businesses into their communities. The ballot language outlines that Massachusetts towns should adopt “reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of operating marijuana businesses and to limit the number of marijuana businesses in their communities.” The ballot would allow for communities to hold a town hall meeting to decide whether or not to allow licensing for public consumption at commercial establishments.

Pros and Cons

If passed, Question 4 will become law in Massachusetts on December 15, 2016, while the newly appointed Cannabis Control Commission will not accept applications for marijuana businesses licenses until October 1, 2017. 

In states like Colorado, which legalized recreational adult use in 2014, the first establishments to receive the proper license to sell recreational marijuana were the businesses already selling medical marijuana. Given that the taxes generated from recreational marijuana far outweigh those from medical sales, it seems likely that Massachusetts businesses would follow a similar model. However, how existing dispensaries will be incorporated into the recreational market and whether or not they will receive preferential treatment in terms of licensing is not clarified in the ballot language. What is clear is that existing medical businesses certainly won’t have to accommodate a medical market if they choose to remain as a medical caregiver. If a business owner chooses to remain a caregiver as opposed to expand to a marijuana retailer, they and their patients will be exempt from the 3.75% excise tax.

The pro-marijuana campaign is supported by a long list of people and organizations with a humanitarian focus. Some of Question 4’s biggest supporters include former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, ACLU of Massachusetts, NORML, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Families for Justice as Healing, travel expert and philanthropist Rick Steves, and President Michelle Wu of the Boston City Council.

However, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Massachusetts is the primary organization supporting Question 4. They released the following statement on their site describing how Massachusetts would implement legal marijuana and why we should:

Regulating marijuana will replace a dangerous underground market with a system of licensed businesses that ask for ID and only sell marijuana to adults. Products will be tested, packaged, and labeled to ensure marijuana is not contaminated and consumers know what they’re getting. Law enforcement officials will be able to spend more of their time and limited resources addressing serious crimes.

Taxing marijuana sales will raise millions of dollars in new revenue each year. Legitimate marijuana businesses will create thousands of good jobs for Massachusetts residents and utilize the products and services of other Massachusetts businesses.

Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society — it is less addictive, less damaging to the body, and less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior. Adults who can legally consume alcohol should not be punished simply for using a less harmful substance.”

Political Opposition

Question 4 has received substantial opposition in Massachusetts from organizations and individual donors from both in and out of state. The main opposition, however, has been coming from the “Vote No On 4” campaign as well as the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. Both organizations are well funded and are currently running airing ads to dissuade voters from voting “Yes” on Question 4.

As outlined in a previous article, the largest donor of the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts is Dorchester native turned Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In addition to his $1 million contribution to the “No” campaign here in Massachusetts, he donated $500,000 earlier this month to defeat a similar measure in Arizona. It should be noted that Adelson earned his $28.9 billion fortune from the gambling industry, a profit that may very well be impacted by the widespread legalization of marijuana.

Aside from Adelson and the casino industry, the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts has received funding from a number of Massachusetts industries, arguably with their profit motive in mind. Several healthcare organizations such as Partners Healthcare and The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts contributed over $200,000, while several alcohol businesses including Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Massachusetts, Inc. and Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, which together contributed over $75,000.

In addition to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, a number of high-profile Massachusetts politicians have publicly decried Question 4. The earliest declaration from reluctant politicians came in the form of an Op-Ed for the Boston Globe co-authored by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker published last March. The editorial was simply titled, “Mass. Should not legalize marijuana.” 

The op-ed made several points against legalizing marijuana, which included the potential for regulatory costs to cut into the state budget, that marketing marijuana could potentially target children, that advancing marijuana laws are decreasing people’s perception of the potential “harms” associated with marijuana use, and that there is a correlation between marijuana use and the opioid epidemic that continues to ravage on in New England. 

In addition to the casino industry, the healthcare industry, the alcohol industry, and several high profile Massachusetts politicians vocalizing their objection to Question 4, the Catholic Church has also stepped forward to declare their objection in the form of an $850,000 donation from the Archdiocese of Boston to the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts. Their donation increased funding for the “No” campaign by approximately 40%. According to the leader of Boston’s archdiocese, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, recently referred to marijuana as “dangerous” and a “gateway drug to heroin and cocaine,” two phrases commonly associated with decades-old anti-marijuana propaganda.

Looking Ahead

According to a Western New England University poll released this Friday, Question 4 reportedly has a 27-point lead among likely voters in Massachusetts. The results indicated that the ballot question has the support of virtually all demographic groups save registered Republican voters over the age of 65.

Whether the influx of cash from Sheldon Adelson and the Archdiosese of Boston into the “NO” campaign will influence these polling figures so close to the election remains to be seen. However, both Massachusetts’ history as a blue state and the significant support indicated by the latest poll suggest that legal marijuana in Massachusetts is likely to pass. Vermont Cannabis: Heady Vermont Watermark

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