BOSTON, MA — Lawmakers in the Massachusetts legislature heard testimony on a bill to legalize marijuana for adults Thursday, while outside the State House medical marijuana patients and advocates rallied for access to medical marijuana as the implementation of the 2012 voter-approved program continues to face delays and controversy.
Inside, lawmakers heard testimony on House Bill 1632, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, introduced by Ellen Story (D-Amherst).
If passed, the bill would allow for adults 21 or older to grow, possess, and share marijuana, including the non-profit transfer of marijuana to other adults. The bill does not specify possession or cultivation limits.
The bill also establishes a tax for retail sales of marijuana, and a new division within the state government to oversee and regulate the cannabis industry.
Activists urged the legislature to pass the bill, or face a statewide ballot initiative in 2016 to place the issue before voters.
“The issue before this committee today, Mr. Chairman, as I see it is not how marijuana is going to be legalized in Massachusetts. The issue is who’s going to do it? Is it going to be the Legislature, or will it be the voters?” asked Northampton attorney Richard Evans, a longtime supporter of ending marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts.
“If the Legislature continues to cede the leadership on this issue to the voters, as it has done for the last two election cycles, then you can be sure that the bill that the people of Massachusetts are looking at in January of 2017 will be one that’s drawn, not calculated to protect the public health and safety, but rather to attract the support of as many voters as possible who are tired of prohibition and are looking for an opportunity to do something about it,” Evans continued.
“The sky has not fallen in Colorado,” he added, noting the recent drop in crime since the state legalized marijuana in 2012.
Testimony on the bill was heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, who’s recently appointed chair, Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Boston), favors legalizing marijuana and treating it the same as alcohol, giving hope to activists who have long watched bills to legalize marijuana or to allow medical marijuana die in committee every legislative session for nearly two decades. The committee was not expected to vote on the bill Thursday, but will issue a decision on the measure in coming weeks.
“Voters should not be making laws like this. Legislators should. But when the legislators won’t, voters must,” Evans said. “So long as the Legislature continues to do nothing on this issue, you are continuing to cede leadership to the voters, and giving people like me and the other activists who support these reforms the moral high ground.”
While lawmakers in Massachusetts have a long history of failing to act on bills to reform marijuana laws in the state, Bay State voters have long favored marijuana reform in polls and at the voting booth, changing the laws when their elected representatives fail to do so. Recent polls have found more than half of Massachusetts voters favor of marijuana legalization in the state.
In 2008, Massachusetts voters approved ballot Question 2, which decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing jail time with a $100 fine. Four years later, in 2012, voters again went to the ballot box in favor of further marijuana reform, this time authorizing medical marijuana in the state by passing ballot Question 3. Both initiatives passed with over 60% approval state wide.
These voter initiatives have not been implemented without push back from state lawmakers, however. The implementation of decriminalization was met with nearly one third of communities in Massachusetts enacting bylaws tacking additional fines on top of the statewide $100 fine for marijuana possession, and several overzealous prosecutors, especially on Cape Cod, seeking ways to circumvent the law and prosecute criminal cases against low level marijuana possession offenses. The Massachusetts Supreme Court has since issued several rulings upholding the marijuana decriminalization law.
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