Marijuana, charter school ballot initiatives likely to advance

Chuck Grant displayed his medical marijuana that he picked up from Massachusetts first medical marijuana dispensary in Salem last June.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Chuck Grant displayed his medical marijuana that he picked up from Massachusetts first medical marijuana dispensary in Salem last June.

Would you vote to make marijuana legal and to tax it like liquor? Would you ban the sale of eggs that aren’t “cage-free?” Would you like to do away with the Common Core education standards in Massachusetts or open more charter schools?

Voters are likely to be confronted with those questions on the November election ballot, after campaigns for each of the ballot initiatives filed signatures Wednesday with the secretary of state.

Supporters appear to have won enough support to potentially put six questions on the ballot in November. A seventh came in the form of a constitutional amendment that could go before voters in 2018 and that would ask voters to impose a millionaires’ tax — an extra 4 percent tax on income over $1 million — for transportation projects and public education.


Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of unions and community and faith groups that led last year’s successful ballot initiative mandating earned sick time for all Massachusetts workers, reported filing more than 157,000 signatures in support of the tax this week.

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“With these signatures, we are moving forward our campaign to invest in better schools and safe transportation infrastructure by asking millionaires to pay their fair share,” said Maria Elena Letona, executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor, which is involved with the coalition.

That petition would need to be approved by 25 percent of lawmakers in a joint session of the Legislature this year; a second approval by the same percentage would be required in 2017 or 2018 to put the question on the ballot in 2018.

Meanwhile, six ballot campaigns appear to have gathered more than the required number of signatures showing support to qualify for the 2016 ballot, according to Secretary of State William F. Galvin. The number — 64,750 signatures — is based on the number of voters who cast votes for governor in the last election.

The petitions must now be examined for validity, mistakes, and other filing requirements — including county-by-county distribution — if they are to advance to the House by Jan. 6. The Legislature could choose to vote on the proposals — but if it does not, the petitioners must each get a second round of at least 10,792 signatures by July 6 to have their proposals put before voters as binding questions on the November ballot.


“There’s a long way to the ballot yet. This is the first cut,” said Galvin.

The ballot questions could include two hot-button education measures: lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts and eliminating the controversial Common Core standards.

Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said the campaign’s filing of 73,000 signatures in support of more charter schools shows strong support for a November ballot question.

At the same time, advocates are pushing for a legislative change that would raise the cap that now limits the creation of additional charter schools. Massachusetts law generally allows up to 120 charter schools, and Boston has reached its limit of 34.

Another major initiative that appears to have won sufficient support is the Massachusetts Fair Health Care Pricing Act — a measure that would reform the state’s hospital payment system by targeting the payment rates demanded by the state’s largest hospital system, Partners Health Care. That ballot question would close the disparity between what insurers pay large academic medical centers and small community hospitals for the same treatment and reduce consumer premiums, advocates said, in announcing they had filed 131,683 signatures. The Legislature is considering a similar measure.


Many ballot campaigns are waged to give heft to legislative battles, said Galvin, who called them “tactically filed initiatives.” And many of the petitioners hired professional signature-gathering companies to collect signatures, he said.

Another ballot question that appeared to qualify was a measure that would present a second chance at gambling in Revere, where a Suffolk Downs casino was shot down by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. That petition would expand the state’s casino law to allow for another slots parlor near — but not at — Suffolk Downs. That petition was launched by a real estate developer in Thailand with ties to Massachusetts, who has been negotiating deals to buy a trailer park and auto facilities near the track. That developer, Eugene McCain, did not respond to messages from the Globe.

Jim Fleming, who runs a Massachusetts signature-gathering firm and who was one of the signers of the casino petition, declined to talk about the casino petition — or even confirm whether he is working for it, although his name was linked to it on documents provided by Galvin’s office.

Meanwhile, animal protection activists who want to bar the extreme confinement of pigs, calves, and hens turned over 26 boxes, decorated with pictures of farm animals, containing petitions from 133,058 Massachusetts residents. Their petition would limit egg sales in Massachusetts to cage-free birds, if it passes.

“This measure will ensure that farm animals all have enough space to freely turn around and extend their limbs,” said Stephanie Harris, Massachusetts state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

The marijuana petition was one of two separate measures proposed — the other apparently fell short — and would not only legalize marijuana but also create regulation and taxes for it. It would bar use by anyone under 21 and create a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee marijuana establishments.

Massachusetts voters twice in recent years approved measures easing marijuana laws: a 2008 ballot question that made the possession of small amounts of marijuana punishable by just a civil fine, and the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes in 2012.

In addition to the second proposal on recreational marijuana, a number of other measures were withdrawn before the filing deadline or fell short of winning adequate support. Among them was a constitutional amendment asserting that “corporations are not people.” Sponsor Nicholas J. Bokron said he was disappointed to have collected only 17,682 signatures but that he was still pursuing legislative efforts to eliminate “the corruptive influence of money and big corporations.”

The secretary of state himself withdrew his own ballot initiative to tighten enforcement of the state’s weak public records law. He said he did so because the House passed a related bill and he won assurances from the Senate that “it is going to be one of the first priority items to come out in 2016.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@ Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert