By Erin Wade
BU News Service
The cheering grew by 11 p.m., when, with 52 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot question legalizing marijuana registered a 6-point lead.
Some of those at the Yes on 4 party in the Back Bay bar began shouting at the television, “We won!”
By 11:45, campaign officials cheered in the basement of Lir, giving victory speeches and waving signs reading, “Tax + Regulate Marijuana.”
“Tonight, we say to the voters of Massachusetts, thank you. We say to the voters of Massachusetts, you have done it again. You have put the state on the right path, like you did with so many other things, like civil rights, like gay marriage. Once again, we’re on the forefront of another great movement in America,” said Jim Borghesani, communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign.
Massachusetts voters gave recreational marijuana the green light Tuesday, approving Question 4 by a margin of 53.6 percent to 46.4 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
The victory means people 21 and older will be able to buy, use and grow marijuana. The law goes into effect in stages. It will be legal to use marijuana in the commonwealth beginning Dec. 15, 2016, but marijuana shops will not be able to open until Jan. 1, 2018.
The drug will be regulated similarly to alcohol, and be taxed at a 10 percent rate statewide, including the regular 6.25 percent sales tax and a 3.75 percent excise tax on marijuana. Individual municipalities will be able to levy up to 2 percent in municipal taxes, as well.
Massachusetts joins Colorado; Washington, D.C.; Alaska; Washington; and Oregon, which have legalized recreational marijuana in the past. Tuesday night’s voting also saw California, Nevada and Maine legalize recreational marijuana and Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota legalize medical marijuana in ballot referendums.
“It’s time to close the book on marijuana prohibition,” Dick Evans, chairman of the Yes on 4 Committee, told the watch party.
Among those celebrating the night was Ian Miller, a brand ambassador for Leafly, a company that provides an online catalog of pot products and reviews of marijuana varieties. Leafly distributed matches, rolling papers and stickers with its logo emblazoned on them at the party.
“This event is, kind of, one of the more mellow ones for people like me, because we’re just here to party. We’re here to help educate people, but we’re hoping for a yes,” Miller said.
The yes vote came despite the opposition of top Massachusetts officials, including Mayor Martin Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker and Cardinal Sean O’Malley. O’Malley produced a blog post and video series voicing his opposition to the ballot question 4 less than two weeks before Election Day.
But Tuesday’s vote was part of a long-term trend toward marijuana legalization in Massachusetts. Voters in the commonwealth decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in 2008 and legalized medical marijuana in 2012 via ballot measure, as well.
Matthew Schweich, director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, saw the Massachusetts vote as an opening to other New England states.
“Massachusetts has the opportunity to set an example for neighboring states and inform lawmakers as they consider adopting similar policies via their legislatures. This was not just a big win for the Commonwealth, but also for New England,” Schweich said in a statement issued early Wednesday.
But for some at the party, like Jeremiah MacKinnon, a Yes on 4 volunteer, the victory was tempered by a new reality.
“When laws are passed, especially by referendum, it’s not just about passing it, it’s also about implementing it correctly,” he said. “That’s going to be the big task.”