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Legalized Marijuana: Could MA Be Next?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

 

Pot proponents have said that enough voter support exists to fully legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth, and recent victories for recreational use laws in Colorado and Washington could pave the way for similar legislation in the Bay State.

Massachusetts voters have shown their support for marijuana reform, approving a 2008 ballot initiative that decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of the drug and, more recently, approving a ballot initiative this year to legalize the medical use of marijuana.

"I'm optimistic about the implemetnation of the Massachusetts law," said Matt Simon, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project.

"There will be some towns that decide they watn to fight the idea of having dispensaries. I'm confident that other towns will be very receptive."

Worcester City Councilor Konstantina Lukes already introduced a measure that would have prohibiting the siting of any medical marijuana treatment centers within the City, and noting the existing conflict between state laws such as the one approved by voters last month and federal laws which trump their local counterparts and are clear on the illegality of the drug. However, the Council opted not to take up the resolution, citing the broad support, over 60 percent of votes, the medical marijuana received in both Worcester and the state as a whole.

Meanwhile, the ballot measures to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that voters approved this fall have already changed the landscape, even as Massachusetts prepares to implement its medical marijuana law in 2013.

Bill Downing, treasurer for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), the state affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of the Marijuana Laws (NORML), said the successful implementation of recreational use laws in Washington and Colorado will help dispel much of the worry, fear and superstition that surrounds cannabis. And once the smoke clears, enterprising Americans will see that there is a lot of green to be made in the green business.

"Of course they're going to be able to turn cannabis into a regulated adult product," said Downing. "Making things into commercial products is what America is all about."

Rather than relying almost solely on philanthropy to support their reform efforts, marijuana advocates may find business interests on their side, looking to take advantage of the opportunities available in an emerging market and throwing their weight behind similar laws in other states.

"This is going to supercharge the legalization effort," Downing said.

Simon said a marijuana legalization bill was introduced in the Massachusetts legislature last year, although it did not merit serious consideration, and will be reintroduced this year when it may receive a better hearing due to developments out West. However, neither Simon nor Downing had much confidence in legalization coming to the Bay State through Beacon Hill.

"As far as going through the legislature, that may be a tough climb," said Simon, noting that marijuana bills have come up in the State House year after year only to be defeated despite 2-to-1 support among voters.

"There's no way that the Massachusetts legislature is all of the sudden going to develop guts of iron and take on marijuana," said Downing, adding that MassCann is hoping to advance its cause through another ballot initiative in 2016.

President Barack Obama eased some of the anxiety over whether or not the federal government would interfere with Colorado and Washington residents taking advantage of their states' new laws. Obama said he would not go after recreational users in states that have legalized such use, which was a cause for some skepticism with Downing.

"That's a very specific word, he said. "That means he's contemplating enforcing the law on growers or large-scale sellers and those people would not be considered users."

"It's really easy for him to say we won't go after users," Simon said, noting that all of the prosecution of users is done by state and local law enforcement and that the federal government has never gone after recreational users.

"Hopefully the president's comments turn out to be a reflection of what the policy may be." 

 

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