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Here's What You Need To Know About Question 4 In Massachusetts

Here's what you need to know about Question 4, the "Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative."

The Basics

Question 4 would make it legal for people 21 or older to possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis at home in Massachusetts. So local renovators might want to start marijuana humidors that complement liquor cabinets. Residents would also be allowed to grow up to six plants, but the limit per household is 12 plants. So even if you have four adults living in your home, you can't grow more than a dozen plants. 

Adults would also be allowed to buy and posses up to one ounce of cannabis in public, but public consumption would remain illegal.

Sales would be restricted to stores licensed by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), which would be created to develop and enforce state regulations. They will issue licenses to retailers as well as commercial growers, product testers, marijuana researchers and cannabis social clubs. Those clubs, which are like marijuana bars, have become a hot issue because they're currently banned in Colorado and other legal states.

The CCC would also allow marijuana special events through limited-time permits. So you might get invited to a marijuana gala in the near future if you live in Massachusetts.

All retail sales would be charged a 3.75 percent excise tax on top of the 6.25 percent state tax. Cities and towns can also add a local tax of up to 2 percent. So depending on where you buy, you'll pay a tax of at least 10 percent and no more than 12 percent on your cannabis purchases, which is lower than the 15 percent rate that states like Arizona and Nevada are planning to impose on their markets.

So generally speaking, Question 4 isn't as ambitious as California, nor as strict as Arizona. But the licenses for clubs and special events could make Massachusetts one of the hippest legal states.

Those in Favor

Question 4 is sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has also backed the initiatives in Arizona, Maine and Nevada. But unlike in those states, the Massachusetts campaign has a wealth of supporters. On the political end of the spectrum, you have former Massachusetts Governor - and current Libertarian vice president candidate - Bill Weld, followed by a slew of retired attorneys general and current state as well as city legislators.

The campaign's official list of endorsements also includes law enforcers, healthcare professionals, academics, businesses and members of the clergy. On top of that, PBS host and renowned travel writer Rick Steves will be campaigning in Massachusetts and Maine on behalf of their legalization initiatives this fall. Although a native of Washington state, Steves is dedicated to repealing prohibition across the country so that states can develop responsible cannabis policies that keep people safe and protect civil liberties. 

"I made a point not to promote marijuana but to promote ending the prohibition against marijuana," Steves told Civilized when explaining why he became an advocate.

"This is an important issue, but people who agreed that it would be pragmatic and wise to stop the war on marijuana were afraid to speak out because it would hurt their business, or it would hurt their political prospects, or it would hurt their standing socially. I'm unique in that I don't need to be elected and that I'm my own boss - nobody can fire me. I'm not a publicly held company. And I can blame my European friends for what I think about drug policy."

Those Opposed

Unfortunately, Question 4 has about as many influential opponents as it has supporters. At the top of the list is current Republican Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey. Last March, they teamed up to release a joint statement opposing Question 4, which they think will be disastrous for the health of the state's residents as well as the economy.

“Here in Massachusetts, we face the possibility that any new revenue would be vastly insufficient to cover the cost of ambulance rides, emergency room visits, and treatment,’’ they wrote. “And these are just the hard costs; they don’t include the suffering of the injured and their families.’’

The statement also promulgated some 'Reefer Madness' type rhetoric. "Decades of research have now debunked the myth that marijuana is harmless. The science also shows that regular marijuana users - especially those who start at a young age - are more likely to try more dangerous drugs."

They actually have things backward. The notion that marijuana is a highly addictive and dangerous substance has been debunked over the last few decades. And the theory that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to harder substances has been busted. Even current Attorney General Loretta Lynch has admitted that addiction to heroin and other hard drugs tends to begin with abusing prescription pills, not marijuana.

But the trio's stance on the issue will likely sway many voters, who will also note the numerous groups of other legislators, law enforcers and healthcare professionals that oppose legalization. So the issue might come down to which side appeals to voters more effectively. 

"Like all campaigns, our biggest challenge will be getting our message out in the most effective manner to voters," Yes on 4's Communications Director Jim Borghesani told Civilized. "We will use a mix of paid media, earned media, speaking engagements, endorsement events, coalition announcements and editorial opinion pieces to explain exactly what Question 4 is and exactly what it does."  

The Bigger Picture

Question 4 could be a game changer for the legalization movement.

“[Repealing prohibition] in states in the northeast - like Maine and Massachusetts - is going to make a huge difference," Morgan Fox - MPP's Communications Manager - told Civilized. "Northeastern states tend to be a bit more conservative in terms of how fast they move on various social changes. So they needed to see some examples [of recreational regimes]. And now that they have those examples, a lot of people are ready for it.”

And that could move things along in neighboring states like Vermont and New Hampshire, which have to pursue legalization through the legislature instead of the ballot box.

"Neither of those states have a ballot initiative process," Fox said. "But there’s massive popular support. New Hampshire has been polling at 50 percent support for legalization the last couple years. But lawmakers have always been a bit behind the curve on this. But when their neighbors are making good policy changes, and starting to reap the benefits from them, it’s going to be very hard for them to continue to ignore their constituents.”

5 States are voting on recreational use of cannabis in 2016. Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.


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