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State Senate president open to legalizing marijuana

Massachusetts Senate president Stan Rosenberg.
Massachusetts Senate president Stan Rosenberg. Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg sounds a lot like a man who supports the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

The Amherst Democrat expressed concern Tuesday about an activist-written legalization referendum, anticipated on the 2016 ballot. But speaking on WGBH-FM’s “Boston Public Radio,” he appeared to be on board with the concept of legalization and struck a libertarian note on a hot-button issue.

Show cohost Jim Braude asked Rosenberg if he is going to vote for the expected initiative to legalize marijuana.

“I’ll see the draft, and then I’ll decide,” Rosenberg said.

“Are you, conceptually — do you agree with the —” Braude pressed.

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“I think people should be allowed to do what they’re going to do unless they are going to hurt somebody else,” Rosenberg replied.

“I come from the Happy Valley. The People’s Republic of Amherst. As Amherst goes, so goes Cambridge,” he continued in a lighthearted back-and-forth with cohost Margery Eagan, referring to the town and city often seen as the state’s most liberal. Asked if Rosenberg now supports legalization, which would make him the highest-profile state elected official to do so, spokesman Pete Wilson replied carefully.

“Yesterday he said he doesn’t have a position on it, one way or the other,” Wilson said by telephone.

And his position Tuesday?

“It’s the same as it was yesterday,” Wilson said, without explaining the apparent discrepancy.

Strong majorities of Massachusetts voters approved measures that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and allowed its use for medical purposes in 2012. Activists have spent years laying the groundwork for a 2016 legalization question.

Rosenberg has repeatedly said that if the state is moving toward legalization, it would be better for the Legislature to do it carefully and thoughtfully than for activists to change the law, perhaps not so carefully and thoughtfully.

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And he has staked out a libertarian view of the drug’s legalization before.

On the radio, Rosenberg also reiterated support for a nonbinding 2016 ballot question on the legalization of marijuana but acknowledged that the proposal is “getting no traction.” He said the option would allow voters to express their will and then, if it passed, let the Legislature carefully craft a legalization measure.

Rosenberg said he worried that an activist-crafted ballot question could be poorly worded and end up being unworkable if it became law. He mentioned the state’s troubled implementation of the 2012 voter-approved medical marijuana law as a referendum that did not work out as planned.

Still, he said he expects activists to gather the signatures needed to get a binding legalization question on the ballot next year, and he believes it is going to pass.

Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, top prosecutors, and other public officials oppose legalization. In a story published in the Globe this week, Walsh said he would “absolutely” be willing to take the lead in opposing a referendum in 17 months.

Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has expressed opposition to and deep discomfort with the idea of legalization and, more or less, deep-sixed a legislative push to legalize.

Rosenberg also voiced support for a push to modernize the state’s public records law, seen as among the weakest in the United States.

“We’re out of step with the national trend on this,” he said.

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Legislators have filed bills that would update the law and give it some teeth, including providing lawyer’ fees to requesters who, according to a court, were wrongfully kept from getting public records.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.