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Retailers Association comes out against pot legalization

(RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A top retailers group, worried about worker productivity declining and plumes of pot smoke deterring customers from Main Street businesses, came out Wednesday against a ballot question that would legalize marijuana.

Jon B. Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, had earlier said he and his members were torn on the controversial issue and were likely to stay neutral.

But he said Wednesday, after learning more about the potential drawbacks of the proposed referendum — from the proliferation of marijuana-infused edibles like brownies, to its generous limits on the home growing of pot — his group decided it would be best if the ballot push is defeated.

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Retailers have “a major stake in promoting safe, healthy communities, and the introduction of the marijuana industry runs counter to that goal,” Hurst said.

He explained what “really turned us was to see just how far the proponents went with the language.”

Hurst said that two state senators who had traveled to Colorado met with members of his group and detailed legalization’s effect there, and the specifics of the Massachusetts measure.

In particular, Hurst expressed concern about the Massachusetts ballot push not specifying measures to limit marijuana-infused edible products (it would leave those up to a commission), and allowing people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per household for personal use.

Opponents assert that the proliferation of edible products causes a ripple of negative effects, from kids accidently ingesting pot-infused candy and getting sick, to police not being able to tell if a cookie in a car they have pulled over is filled with marijuana or just sugar.

And opponents worry that the 12-marijuana plant limit for home growing would cause headaches for law enforcement and allow potential diversion to the black market.

Hurst said his association, which represents about 4,000 small and medium-size businesses across the state, was also concerned about people smoking marijuana outside of Main Street businesses, which could turn off potential customers.

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Even though public pot smoking would remain illegal under the measure, he said his members are concerned about the possibility that legalization would increase street smoking.

Jim Borghesani, communications director for the main pro-legalization group, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, brushed off the retailers’ fears as baseless.

He said there have been no issues involving worker impairment in the four states where voters have legalized marijuana — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska — and no negative impact on retail establishments.

He told the Globe his group anticipates Massachusetts will have the strictest regulations on edibles in the country, since the state will be learning from the experience of the four other states where voters have legalized the drug.

“Legalization is working in other states and will work in Massachusetts.

“These states are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues along with thousands of new jobs,” he said in an e-mail.

“Legalizing and regulating marijuana will take the power away from gangs and cartels and place control with state and local authorities.”

Hurst’s group joins a diverse array of business, medical, law enforcement, and other organizations opposed to legal marijuana.

They include the Massachusetts Hospital Association and Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a group that represents employers.

Much of the political activity against the effort — including the retailers’ announcement — is coming from the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, which is backed by political leaders including Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston.

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Should the proposed law make the ballot — and should voters green-light it in November — possessing, using, and giving away 1 ounce or less of recreational marijuana would be legal for adults 21 and older as of Dec. 15.

In addition, retail sales could start in January of 2018.


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos and subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics at bostonglobe.com/
politicalhappyhour.