Marijuana regulation question on track for Massachusetts ballot in November
Last update: May 28, 2016
Massachusetts voters will likely weigh in on ending marijuana prohibition this November. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol turned in 103,000 signatures in December as a first step in the initiative process and must turn in 10,792 more near the end of June to secure a ballot slot.
Unfortunately, the campaign has strong opposition. Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo formed an opposition committee in April. The next financial reporting date for initiative campaigns is early September, so there’s no way to get a read on the opposition’s fundraising until then. History shows that Bay State voters don’t always follow the lead of top officials on ballot questions, however.
A Western New England University poll in April showed 57 percent support for legalization, with 35 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. Other polls have shown the race to be closer. The campaign is reaching out to local and state elected officials, business groups, physicians, clergy, treatment professionals, and many other groups to help broaden the base of support.
Only six dispensaries open, highlighting slow approval process
On November 6, 2012, 63% of Bay State voters approved Question 3, making their state the 18th to enact a compassionate medical marijuana program. More than two years later — long after deadlines had passed — the Department of Public Health allowed the first dispensary to begin cultivating on December 31, 2014. The first dispensary opened in Salem on June 24, 2015, and five dispensaries have opened since then. The first dispensary in Boston will open in June 2016.
Question 3 called for up to 35 dispensaries (more if deemed necessary by regulators), but only 15 dispensary applicants were selected by the department in 2014. In June 2015, the department announced that it would scrap its controversial scoring system for applicants and that it would instead begin considering applications on a rolling basis. Over 150 dispensary applicants are currently involved in the process of seeking state approval.
Meanwhile, patients have been able to apply for ID cards since October 2014. The registration is mandatory: Unregistered patients are no longer afforded any protection from being arrested. If you are a patient, click here to visit the Department of Public Health’s website, where you may begin the application process.
You can read our summary of Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law here.
Marijuana laws in Massachusetts
Although possession of under an ounce of marijuana is punishable by a civil fine of $100 in Massachusetts, pursuant to an initiative campaign led by MPP in 2008, the prohibition of marijuana has plenty of opportunity costs. Time spent enforcing marijuana laws could better be used to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of serious and violent crime. According to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2012, the clearance rate for murder in Massachusetts was 47.9%; for rape and burglary, the clearance rates were 24.9% and 10.2%, respectively.
Additionally, new evidence suggests that Massachusetts’ marijuana laws are not being evenly enforced. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in Massachusetts are 3.9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Massachusetts, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.