In the November election, voters in a number of Massachusetts districts sent a message that they’re ready to see dramatic changes in the commonwealth’s marijuana laws.
In nine legislative districts around the state (including the 1st Franklin and 3rd Hampshire districts), a majority of voters approved public policy questions calling for marijuana to be taxed and regulated by the government, in the same way alcohol is. In addition, voters in nine districts (including, locally, the 1st Hampden) approved public policy questions calling for medical marijuana to be available to patients on a doctor’s recommendation.
While public policy questions are non-binding, they are an important way for constituents to voice their priorities to their representatives; indeed, the wording of PPQs specifically asks voters, “Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of” whatever policy is being suggested. While legislators don’t have to follow that directive, they certainly can’t deny that voters have made their wishes clear.
And now it appears that legislators may, indeed, have the opportunity to turn into law the very measures voters supported on the November ballot. State Rep. Ellen Story, a Democrat who represents the 3rd Hampshire district, has filed a bill called the “Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act.” The proposed law would legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use by adults, and would create a state Cannabis Control Authority to regulate its legal sale and taxation. The bill has its genesis in earlier efforts by Northampton attorney Dick Evans, a longtime advocate for marijuana policy reform who has previously brought the proposal to the Legislature under a law that allows citizens to file bills without a legislator’s sponsorship. (See “Legalize It?” Oct. 15, 2009)
In addition, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg (a Democrat from the Hampshire-Franklin district) and Rep. Frank Smizik, a Brookline Democrat, have filed in their respective chambers bills to legalize and regulate the medical use of marijuana with the approval of a physician.
It remains to be seen, of course, if either bill ever makes it to the floor for a vote. Evans’ previous legalization bills have died without reaching a vote, as have earlier medical marijuana bills filed by Smizik.
But advocates hope the proposals are ideas whose time has come. “As the Commonwealth faces a two-billion-dollar budget deficit, the legislature cannot afford to continue the unjust, unwise and unreasonable prohibition of cannabis to adults, nor ignore the savings, revenue and jobs that would come from regulating and taxing the commercial cannabis industry, including hemp,” Steven Epstein, a spokesman for marijuana reform group MassCann, said in a statement about Story’s bill. “Massachusetts should lead the nation to finally ending ‘reefer madness.’