50 States

50 States: Massachusetts

By Melissa Karlin and David Jenison

50 States: Massachusetts

Medical: Yes
Recreational: Yes
Decriminalized: Yes

Massachusetts is home to Boston, one of the major sites of revolutionary battles in our nation’s history. In November 2016, it claimed victory in another revolutionary battle, joining Maine as the first two east coast states to legalize recreational cannabis. 

The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 4) passed with 54 percent of the vote. It allows individuals age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce in public and 10 ounces in their homes, grow up to six plants (and 12 per residence if multiple growers) and give another person of legal age up to an ounce. 

“States with regulated marijuana access tend to have lower rates of opiate overdoses,” said Patrick Heinz, a retired Substance Abuse Counselor and Corrections Officer who now works with Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). “I think we’re going to greatly reduce the pain and suffering of people in Massachusetts, particularly those with opioid addiction and their families. The new tax revenue from marijuana will help us provide better and more accessible drug treatment.”

Despite voter approval for legalization, the state government delayed the enactment of the initiative and attempted to gut it. Per the Boston Globe, proposed changes included "sharply increasing the marijuana tax rate, lowering the 12-plant-per-household limit on home growing pot, and even raising the legal age for purchase, possession, and use up from 21," among other prohibitionist moves. 

Republican Governor Charlie Baker fought hard to undo the democratic vote to legalize recreational cannabis, but in July 2017, he begrudgingly signed a revised cannabis law, stating, "I don’t support this. I worry terribly about what the consequences over time will be." The revised law increases the maximum tax rate on cannabis sales by two-thirds, allows cities and towns to ban cannabis and pushes back legal sales until July 2018. 

Like the fight to make state officials honor the democratic will of the voters, the fight to pass the November initiative was equally fierce. Right-wing casino mogul Sheldon Adelson contributed a million dollars to defeat the measure, while the Boston Archdiocese (of decades-long child rape and cover-up fame) ponied up $850,000. Many state and local politicians from both parties opposed the bill, which is not surprising since the Cambridge and Kendall Square area alone is home to more than 100 pharmaceutical companies, making Cambridge-Boston the number one Big Pharma hub in the nation. Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic Mayor Martin Walsh of Boston both opposed legalization while hypocritically supporting the expansion of alcohol sales. 

Conversely, the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson endorsed legalization, and a survey of Harvard undergraduates found a 67- to 16-percent advantage in favor of Question 4. Poll numbers in late spring and early summer made it appear Question 4 would fail, but the measure gradually gained more and more support. 

Bay State officials were equally resistant to medical cannabis. In 2012, 63 percent of voters approved legal cannabis for medical use, but the state was painstakingly slow in implementing that law. In the three years after the legislation passed, it was nearly impossible for dispensaries to receive licenses to open, and the harsh regulations for approving cannabis for medical use was so intense that, if applied to the produce in most grocery stores, they too would fail to pass.  

During this time, people were fined and arrested with cannabis in their possession even when they had a signed doctor’s prescription under the original implementation of the law. However, in December 2014, a dispensary was approved for cultivation, and in June of 2015, the first MMJ dispensary opened in Salem. 

Patients requiring MMJ need to apply for an ID card, but this ID card may not protect all patients, even with full legalization. It is still a federal offense to travel with a “drug” across American waters. So those wishing to visit Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard with medicine can have it confiscated, even if they have an ID card. This is something that could impact not only tourism but also the people who live on the islands—many of whom are older retirees who may suffer from alignments like cancer.  

"No matter how many states do it, we are still going to have some of these weird loopholes that people fall into," said Christopher Brown, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Safe Access, discussing the situation in Massachusetts. 

The best way to fight this, of course, is at the ballot box and by writing your state and federal officials. 

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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