Incoming Massachusetts Governor Against Marijuana Legalization; Supports Ballot Initiatives

Scott Gacek of The Daily Chronic reports:

“If Massachusetts is going to legalize marijuana within the next four years, it appears that it will have to be done via the ballot initiative process.

In an interview with the Springfield Republican, Governor-elect Charlie Baker (R) said he was against legalizing marijuana, and would “oppose that and I’m going to oppose that vigorously,” essentially promising a likely veto if lawmakers take the unlikely step of approving a bill to legalize cannabis in the upcoming 2015-2016 legislative session. Bills to legalize marijuana have been introduced on Beacon Hill since 2009, but have never made it out of committee for a floor vote.

“There’s a ton of research out there at this point that says, especially for young people, it’s just plain bad,” Baker said, adding that he would work to oppose efforts to legalize marijuana “with a lot of help from a lot of other people in the addiction community.”

But all hope hasn’t been lost for marijuana legalization in Massachusetts. Baker tells that while he opposes marijuana legalization, he supports the ballot initiative process, which has twice been used to reform marijuana laws in the Bay State — decriminalizing marijuana possession in 2008 and legalizing medical marijuana in 2012.

“I’m a big believer in the initiative petition process,” Baker said. “I believe in it, I support it.”

While Baker may not approve marijuana legalization, voters in Massachusetts are ready. Non-binding questions asking voters about marijuana legalization were placed on the ballot in 14 districts on election day, with all of them passing by wide margins.

Marijuana reform advocates are confident that a binding initiative to legalize marijuana will appear — and likely pass — on the ballot in 2016, but the actual language — and primary sponsor — has yet to be determined.

Bay State Repeal, an organization formed last year made up of veteran marijuana reform advocates native to Massachusetts, is pushing for a repeal of marijuana prohibition laws, hoping to create the “least restrictive law possible,” regulating marijuana like produce.

Meanwhile, the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project has the Bay State on their 2016 radar as well. Massachusetts is one of five states where MPP has already established a campaign committee for a legalization push in 2016 for “regulate marijuana like alcohol” measures that follow the Colorado model.

MPP was behind 2012’s successful campaign to allow medical marijuana in the state, an initiative some activists have criticized as being heavily flawed, allowing state bureaucrats to stall the implementation of the program. In the two years since voters approved the measure, no dispensaries have yet to open and a state patient registry has just recently been launched.

Baker’s support of the initiative petition process could soon be tested, as the incoming governor will likely take office before the first medical marijuana dispensaries are opened. Following last week’s elections, Baker said he hopes to get the process of opening the dispensaries “moving along.”

“There are clearly people who are looking for Massachusetts to get its act together and move forward on this,” Baker said.

But will Baker be singing the same tune two years from now, after a successful initiative to legalize marijuana is passed by Bay State voters? We shall see in 728 days.”


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