Voters to determine future of Massachusetts marijuana legalization


On Nov. 8, Massachusetts voters will not only cast their votes for president, but will also vote for or against the legalization of marijuana for individuals over the age of 21 within the state. Question 4 on the ballot will also include an opportunity for Massachusetts residents to vote for or against increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

A Boston University School of Public Health seminar held this week featured Jim Borghesani, a supporter of legalizing marijuana, and Jason Lewis, a state senator and opponent of legalizing marijuana squaring off. MassLive reports that the debate became heated, with Borghesani and Lewis leveling accusations at each other of being "sinister" and "disingenuous."

Yes On 4 is a group advocating for the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts. The group argues that should the ballot question pass, a legal system will be created that will drive down demand for marijuana on the black market. Additionally, according to the Yes On 4 website, businesses will be required to test marijuana products and adhere to packaging and labeling guidelines. The Yes On 4 website also states that the prosecution of marijuana-related issues disproportionately affects people of color, who are three times as likely as whites to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite usage rates being the same. Yes On 4 asserts that taxing marijuana will generate approximately $100 million in annual revenue, and this money can be channeled back into infrastructure, towards schools, the police force and veteran services. Meanwhile, opponents of Yes On 4 are concerned for the public health implications of legalizing an unhealthy substance. 

Opponents to Yes On 4 include Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and numerous hospitals and doctors, as well as the Massachusetts Municipal Association, according to Lewis. Public officials who have endorsed Yes On 4 include Boston City Council President Michelle Wu and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. 

MassLive reports that Lewis, opponent of legalizing marijuana, said, "Whoever wants to be involved in this campaign is, I think, free to be involved. I think the vast majority of our funding, I'm pretty confident, is going to come from organizations and individuals who care about public health, who care about public safety, who work in the addiction community, or the health care community or law enforcement or business groups that are concerned about the impact on their employees," he said. He added, "And conversely on the other side their money is going to be largely coming from marijuana industry interests." Borghesani claims the industry has not been a significant contributor to the campaign. 

Referring to the existing black market, Borghesani said, according to MassLive, "We're going to see from our opponents a fear-based campaign about why people should be afraid of marijuana in Massachusetts, but avoiding the simple truth that there already is a thriving industry in Massachusetts."

Massachusetts has been gradually moving towards the legalization of marijuana for years. Possession of small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized in 2008 and marijuana for medical use was decriminalized in 2012 with relatively small opposition. MassLive reports that Lewis said, "I think they may have thought that, you know, it might be a cakewalk like in 2008 or 2012 because there wasn't really much organized opposition."