A group pressing for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts by a 2016 popular vote said it submitted draft language for a ballot question to the Attorney General’s Office for an informal review to make sure it meets constitutional muster.
Bay State Repeal is not proposing a new regulatory regime or extra taxes on sale of the drug to adults; rather its ballot push is focused on simply legalizing marijuana and curbing access for people under 21, according the group’s news release, the draft language, and one of the group’s board members.
“It’s got teeth,” said Steve Epstein of Bay State Repeal, explaining that the draft language creates new criminal penalties for the sale of marijuana to people under 21.
For example, the draft language makes selling or furnishing marijuana or a marijuana product to a minor punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and/or by imprisonment for up to two years for a first offense.
It’s notable, however, that the language does not include a special tax on retail sales of the drug, something that has brought in tens of millions of dollars to Colorado, for instance, where recreational use is legal.
A special tax “is not necessary,” Epstein said in a telephone interview, arguing that in states where one has been instituted, the black market for marijuana has continued to flourish, allowing greater access for minors.
Epstein said all the normal Massachusetts laws and regulations would apply to retail recreational marijuana sales, but the draft ballot language doesn’t impose a new marijuana oversight agency or restrictions beyond those meant to keep it out of the hands of people under 21.
“Criminalizing marijuana to keep it away from young people has backfired completely,” Bill Downing, the treasurer of Bay State Repeal said in a statement. “Street dealers don’t check ID, so every kid in the Commonwealth can get hold of marijuana very easily.”
Voters in Colorado, three other states, and the District of Columbia have given the green light to the recreational use of marijuana so far, but the drug remains illegal under federal law.
A 2016 push to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts by ballot is widely expected to succeed. Strong majorities approved measures that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and allowed its use for medical purposes in 2012.
Massachusetts has struggled a great deal in its licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries, with the process prompting more than two dozen lawsuits against the health department.
To get an initiative petition for a law on the ballot, advocates must begin by submitting their proposed text with the signatures of at least 10 registered voters by Aug. 5.
If the attorney general approves the language as constitutional, supporters then must submit at least 64,750 certified voter signatures with the secretary of state by Dec. 2, 2015.
The petition will then be put before the Legislature. If it is rejected or the Legislature doesn’t act on it by May 3, 2016, backers must gather another 10,792 certified signatures by July 6, 2016, and then it will appear on the ballot for voters to have their say.
A number of top Massachusetts officials, from Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, to Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, oppose the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston has indicated he will campaign against any such push.
Besides Bay State Repeal, the other ballot question committee aiming for legalization is the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts. That’s backed by a well-funded national group, the Marijuana Policy Project and could have a ballot question of its own.
The state constitution says that if any provisions of laws passed by ballot measures during the same election are held to be in conflict, then the provisions in the question that received the largest number of votes “shall govern.”