Proponents of marijuana legalization stated yesterday that they plan to put the question on the 2016 ballot to let Massachusetts voters decide. This fits with the plan that we have seen rolling out in other states. Colorado first passed a medical marijuana law and then moved a few years later toward overall legalization. Oregon, Alaska and the state of Washington have followed a similar path.
Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana possession in 2008 and then began to move towards a medical marijuana program in 2012. The medical marijuana law has been stalled by a fractured implementation by the state’s less than able Department of Public Health and now, at the federal level we see increasing signs of resistance. Although states have been given some leeway in crafting the relevant laws. there is some uncertainty as to whether or not the feds will pursue their more stringent requirements to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries or keep them from opening altogether. The feds require the any marijuana dispensary, maintain at least 1000 feet from any schools, day-care centers, or facilities where children frequently congregate. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts crafted a more generous law, setting the required distance at 500 feet. This establishes a substantial risk for a dispensary that may be in compliance with state law but out of compliance, and at risk for penalties, at the federal level. In addition, smaller towns using the federal guideline or guidelines they vote into law themselves may not be able to accommodate a dispensary at all. Rural Essex, a small town on the North Shore of the Boston area, recently noted that the only areas that meet eligibility according to their town’s guidelines are wetlands on the outskirts of town, accessible only by dirt roads and restricted from construction by Wetland Protection laws. This is due to the distance in the Essex bylaws set at 2500 feet, more twice that of the federal guidelines.
Proponents of legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts cite some of the compelling numbers in recent elections. Three legislative districts in and around Essex county on the North shore approved a legalization vote by their representatives of 57, 71 and 61 percent. The ongoing controversy does not look as though it will end soon. The recently elected Governor to be Charles Baker has stated he is against legalization of marijuana, as are the police chiefs in the Commonwealth and many other medical and social service organizations. The proponents of legalization however, have some deep pockets to call in. In the past, millions of dollars have been contributed to medical marijuana and legalization campaigns by wealthy donors from California, New York and other areas outside New England. Many advocates for legalization are saying that it is not a matter of “if” Massachusetts will see legalization, but rather, “when”.