The Ballot Question: A Closer Look

Election Day is November 8, 2016. All Massachusetts ballots will include Question 4, whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana, which reads:

Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana

A YES VOTE would allow persons 21 and older to possess, use, and transfer marijuana and products containing marijuana concentrate (including edible products) and to cultivate marijuana, all in limited amounts, and would provide for the regulation and taxation of commercial sale of marijuana and marijuana products.

A NO VOTE opposes this proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. A ‘no’ vote does not affect the law on medical marijuana, which is legal in the state. 

The full text of the ballot initiative, containing 25 pages of provisions that would go into effect if the measure passes, can be found on the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website:

A review of the full ballot question reveals troubling details that favor the marijuana industry and fail to protect the health of Massachusetts residents:

  • The ballot question lacks any public health oversight or authority in the development of regulations

    • The state Treasurer, not any health agency, will have ultimate oversight, and will appoint a three-member Cannabis Control Commission, which will be responsible for issuing regulations and for clarifying and enforcing laws and regulations, including security, packaging, testing requirements. (Ballot, Sections 3 and 4)
    • The Governor would appoint 15 experts, including two in public health, to a Cannabis Advisory Board. However, the initiative does not provide the Board with any authority to amend or oppose regulations or interpretations of laws or regulations.
  • Tax revenue will be substantially lower than in other states.

    • If Question 4 passes, recreational marijuana will be subject to a 3.75% sales tax, and up to a possible additional 2% local tax. (Ballot, Section 4) By comparison, Washington State imposes a 37% tax, Colorado imposes a 29% tax, and Alaska a 25% tax. (chart or image)
  • No revenue is earmarked for health care, education, prevention, or treatment programs.

    • The only taxes proposed by the ballot questions are for administration and enforcement, with any excess going to the state’s General Fund. Other states designate a portion of revenue for public health purposes.  (Ballot, Section 4)
  • Cities and towns have restrictions on how they can limit retail marijuana establishments

    • Cities and towns may not entirely prohibit retail marijuana establishments, except by passage of a referendum by the voters of the city or town. However, the language of the initiative is sufficiently complex and vague such that cities and towns attempting to limit marijuana establishments could be subjected to costly litigation. (Ballot, Section 5)

The ballot question would allow for personal cultivation of marijuana, of up to 12 plants per premises, and personal possession of up to 1 ounce. (Ballot, Section 5)

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Question 4: The Devil is in the Details

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Resources on Recreational Marijuana

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