By Max Rodriguez
BU News Service
Advocates petitioning to legalize recreational marijuana in Massachusetts said they have collected over 100,000 signatures in support of a bill to place the question in next year’s election ballot.
Communications Director Jim Borghesani, for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, said he is confident he will see the option to legalize recreational pot on the ballot.
Borghesani said they submitted all signatures to the commonwealth’s Secretary of State’s office for certification and are now in the review process with state legislators.
The campaign cannot celebrate yet. Lawmakers must review the bill and hold a legislative hearing with those who are pro-legalization and those who oppose.
Borghesani said he expects legislators to turn the bill away, which means that the campaign must collect over 10,000 more signatures in order for the bill to live.
Borghesani said the campaign is not slowing down.
“We have high confidence the question will be in next year’s ballot. The polls show that people want marijuana to be legal,” said Borghesani. “We are not advocates of unrestrained marijuana usage, there will be limits, it is going to be regulated and taxed.”
The regulations Borghesani speaks of would be similar to the ones imposed on alcohol.
Those 21 and older would be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow a limited amount in their homes. The regulations would also oversee licenses from retail outlets and create a commission similar to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which would supervise the cultivation of cannabis.
The proposed plan would also create a 3.75 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales, in addition to the standard state tax and local government taxation.
A poll from the Boston NPR affiliate WBUR showed 49 percent of those surveyed were in favor of making marijuana legal for recreational purposes. Forty-two percent voted that it should not be legal, and 9 percent refused to answer.
Massachusetts has slowly been moving in the direction to legalize marijuana. In the 2008 election, 65 percent of voters decided to decriminalize small possessions of marijuana, making possession of an ounce a civil offense with a $100 fine. In the 2012 elections, 63 percent of Massachusetts’ voters opted to legalize medical marijuana.
Proponents say marijuana legalization will combat underground sales and would allow customers to know the exact origin of their pot. But some of the state’s top politicians remain opposed.
In November, Gov. Charlie Baker spoke on the opioid addiction the commonwealth is facing. He said said he will not support recreational marijuana.
“I’ve made it very clear that I am going to vote against the legalization of recreational marijuana questions,” said Baker.
Bonnie McGilpin, a spokesperson for Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, said Walsh also is opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana and would campaign against a ballot question.
McGilpin said it was premature to discuss any campaign efforts. However, Walsh previously stated that if no other lawmaker steps up, he would lead the campaign against the vote to legalize marijuana if the question makes it to the November election.
In spite of executive opposition, there are lawmakers in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
Massachusetts Rep. Jay Livingstone said via email that he is expecting to see a marijuana question on the ballot, given that the Attorney General’s office has approved four initiative petitions.
Livingstone praised the decriminalization of marijuana from the 2008 election.
But despite lesser consequences, Livingstone argues people still have to interact with criminals if they want to purchase marijuana.
“To buy marijuana is still a crime that causes individuals to interact with criminal enterprises. This makes no sense,” Levingstone said. “We should legalize marijuana so that law enforcement can focus on more serious crimes.”
Borghesani argues marijuana is not a gateway drug. Instead, the gateway is purchasing it from underground dealers who have access to harsher drugs. He said people who come in contact with dealers who sell other drugs bring more danger than buying from a regulated dispensary.
Marijuana continues to be illegal under federal law. However, almost half of the states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and four states have legalized recreational marijuana.