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Vote no on Question 4 — it’s an industry-driven mess of a proposal

A man smoked marijuana in Amsterdam. Shutterstock / Pe3k

If Massachusetts voters approve the legalization of recreational marijuana as called for in Question 4, pass the weed. We’ll need it.

This is an industry-driven mess of a proposal. That’s why I’m voting against it.

If this ballot question passes on Nov. 8, the new law goes into effect on Dec. 15. That means people 21 and older can legally possess recreational marijuana in Massachusetts as of that date. But recreational marijuana still can’t be legally sold until Jan. 1, 2018.

Proponents call this a “gray period.” I call it confusing. Try reading the Question 4 explanation in the voter information booklet put out by the secretary of state and it only gets more confusing.


The state has a year to set up an agency to regulate the sale, possession, and use of recreational marijuana. If it doesn’t meet the deadline, the marijuana industry decides how and what it can sell. Advantage, potheads.

Five years after the passage of a law allowing resort casinos in Massachusetts, we still don’t have one. And we expect quick agreement on marijuana? The wrangling has already begun.

The ballot question calls for a 3.75 percent tax on marijuana, but lawmakers are already talking about adding onto that. The ballot question empowers the state treasurer to appoint regulators to a cannabis control commission; disagreement over that is likely too. Currently, there’s no sure way to measure marijuana intoxication, so the state will also have to come up with a reliable test for driving while high. Meanwhile, the politically wired who were able to get licenses to operate medical marijuana treatment centers are also wired to qualify for the first licenses to sell marijuana under the new law. After that, a lottery supposedly kicks in.

Based on the timetable imposed by the ballot question, the new year on Beacon Hill will have an all-weed focus, sucking all the oxygen out of other priorities like housing, education, and transportation.


The ballot question gives the governor until Feb. 1, 2017, to make initial appointments to a cannabis advisory board. The state treasurer has until March 1, 2017, to make initial appointments to a cannabis control commission. The cannabis control commission has until January 2018 to adopt its own regulations regarding the sale of marijuana. If it doesn’t, the medical marijuana treatment centers “may begin to possess, cultivate, process, manufacture, package, purchase,’’ and sell to anyone 21 and over as they choose.

In other words, the marijuana industry is telling the state what it must do, instead of the other way around. Imagine if the casino industry had that kind of power. Instead, Massachusetts made the gambling industry jump through tough regulatory hoops to preserve the state’s interest and protect public safety and welfare.

Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston oppose Question 4. So do the medical and law enforcement communities. But the ballot question essentially takes the matter out of opponents’ hands until after the industry gets what it wants. From a public policy perspective, that’s a big mistake. If Question 4 passes, many complicated issues will have to be addressed after Election Day. And since marijuana will still be prohibited under federal law, the state takes on all the burdens of regulation and quality control. What a drain on resources.


If it’s now officially uncool to be against legalizing marijuana, so be it. But what about being against the idea of allowing a multibillion dollar industry to call the shots on opening up a vast, new market that affects everyone, including children?

Think about it. There’s a lot more at stake than being hip about getting high.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.