Massachusetts: Lawmakers Push Forward To Legalize Marijuana

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Massachusetts legislators are working on a marijuana legalization proposal, partly to counteract an expected 2016 ballot initiative push.

Cannabis advocates have long planned an initiative petition drive to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults, and political analysts have expected the measure to pass in 2016, reports Joshua Miller at the Boston Globe.

But some lawmakers are reluctant to let activists write a legalization law through ballot initiative. The legislators would rather write the law themselves, and have final say on the details. That's why 13 bipartisan sponsors introduced House Bill 1561, which would legalize marijuana for adults and establish a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, reports Phillip Smith at AlterNet.

"Wouldn't it be a good idea for the Legislature to look at it ahead of time, listen to every point of view, anticipate every problem that we would, and try to do it right?" said Senator Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Somerville), a lead sponsor of a bill to legalize, tax and regulate recreational cannabis.

"I think it's better, if we're going to do this, to do it in the Legislature than on the ballot," agreed Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, who claimed he doesn't have a strong opinion on legalization. Rosenberg isn't listed as a cosponsor, but later said, "I believe if the Legislature doesn't act on it, it will be done on the ballot."

The problem is, Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh all oppose legalizing marijuana recreationally, and their opposition could doom a legislative push, whereas they wouldn't be able to do anything to stymie a ballot initiative.

The legislative push, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down multiple groups of activists who want to give voters a direct say on recreational legalization.

"Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana works," said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which is backing one of two official committees working towards a ballot question in Massachusetts. Tvert said the success of regulation instead of prohibition is something "voters are going to take into consideration."

Strong majorities approved marijuana decriminalization in Massachusetts in 2008, and medical marijuana in 2012. In 2016, political analysts expect one legalization measure or another to garner the tens of thousands of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot -- and further, they expect it the measure to get enough votes to pass into law.

Massachusetts has struggled in its licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries, with the process resulting in more than two dozen lawsuits against the health department. No dispensaries have yet opened since they were legalized in November 2012.

"I think it's time we got on with it and legalized marijuana," said Senator William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont), committee chairman, former prosecutor, and one of more than a dozen cosponsors of the legalization bill. "There are too many ways for people to get in trouble in this state, and it's time to get rid of one of them."

But the House Republican leader, Rep. Bradley H. Jones Jr., opposes legalization, either by ballot or by bill. "I just don't understand how we can be in this headlong rush to legalize when we're dealing with the opioid crisis in the state," he said nonsensically.

Gov. Baker, meanwhile, has said he is "going to always be opposed to legalizing" recreational use of marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law. The governor underlined his position on cannabis last week, citing concerns from people in the "addiction community" about its being a "gateway drug" (which science has disproven, according to Time Magazine) and said he was "worried" about its effects on teens and young adults.

When the Governor was asked if he would veto a marijuana legalization bill if it reached his desk, he paused a few seconds before claiming he hates to speak to hypothetical situations, but "conceptually" he is opposed to legalization. Spineless political doublespeak, anyone?

The attorney general is also opposed to "the full legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts," a spokesman for Healey's office said.

Additionally, the state’s district attorneys expect to “oppose the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts” and expect to join “education and health care experts in doing so,” according to a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

Boston's mayor will join the opposition; he recently claimed the push to legalize cannabis is a "big mistake," once again bringing up the tired old "gateway drug" myth, and pointing to what he claimed are "struggles" with legalization in Colorado. If the dim-witted mayor believes having piles of tax dollars are a "struggle," then one supposes he could be accurate in his pea-brained description.

"People have to realize marijuana is not heroin," said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "No one has died of a marijuana overdose," Simon said, adding that cannabis is objectively safer than alcohol, and it's better to have a regulated market than a black one.