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SJC approves legalized marijuana ballot question

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An effort to create a legalized marijuana industry in Massachusetts cleared a key hurdle Wednesday when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled a ballot question approving the growing, selling and marketing of marijuana can be on the November ballot.

The unanimous ruling by the state's highest court focused only on whether the question complies with constitutional rules for ballot measures. Supporters must still file signatures supporting the effort by the end of Wednesday with Secretary of State William F. Galvin's office for it to be the ballot.

Writing for the SJC, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants dismissed opponents complaints that the ballot question improperly combined two complex subjects – legalization of marijuana and regulation of medical marijuana treatment centers – into a single question that voters answer with a "yes" or "no."

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"We conclude that the Attorney General did not err in certifying the petition for inclusion on the ballot under art. 48 [of the state's constitution] because the petition contains only related subjects,'' Gants wrote. "A voter who favors the legalization of marijuana but not the participation in the retail market of entities registered as medical marijuana treatment centers is free to vote 'no.' "

The court did order changes to the wording Attorney General Maura Healey's office had proposed for the ballot question. Healey wanted the headline to read simply, "Marijuana Legalization,'' but Gants wrote the court found that too imprecise and ordered a change.

"We therefore order that the title be amended to read, 'Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana,' '' Gants wrote.

The SJC broke with tradition and made five changes to the single sentence voters will see on their ballots instead of allowing Healey and Galvin time to make the changes. Gants wrote that the ballots will be printed this month and the court can move faster than Healey or Galvin's office can.

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One of those five changes is the addition of the phrase "edible products" to make it clear to voters that if the industry is launched, they will be able to sell more than just marijuana for smoking, Gants wrote.

"Many voters will have at least a general awareness that marijuana can appear in baked products such as cookies and "brownies," and therefore will likely recognize that the consumption of 'marijuana products' will include edible products,'' Gants wrote.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.