Will The People of Massachusetts Get the Marijuana Law They Voted For?

Question 4 Shenanigans
The Boston Globe suggests five ways to fix their "bad pot law" that 53.6% of voters approved.

Marijuana is a drug that is so powerful it can make people hate democracy. Our latest example: the opinion columnist at The Boston Globe who has suggested “Five ways to fix the bad pot law Mass. just passed“.

Congratulations Massachusetts, we just passed one of the worst pot bills in the country.

…Our Beacon Hill leaders should do what they didn’t do in the first place, which is steer this runaway train down the right track. The Yes on 4 campaign successfully tapped into voter sentiment on legalizing recreational marijuana, and the ballot measure passed comfortably with about 54 percent in support.

…This is a law written by the marijuana industry, and it’s got their best interests, not ours, in mind.

…Lawmakers now have the ability to go back and make amendments without undoing the will of the people.

Excuse me? A majority of the voters in Massachusetts – 53.6 percent – passed Question 4 as written. If the people thought it was “one of the worst pot bills in the country”, they would not have passed it. We’ve already seen this happen four times in the past six years:

  • 2016 – Arizona Prop 205: It would have protected citizens from any punishment by the state solely for the presence of marijuana – inactive or active – in a person’s system. That means not only no drug-test-only evidence for marijuana DUIs, it could’ve meant no drug testing discrimination for any position contracted by state or local governments*. Talk about a “runaway train”! It failed with 48.5 percent of the vote.
  • 2015 - Ohio Issue 3: It would have written into the state constitution a system whereby only the ten $2 million investors in the amendment campaign would own the land where commercial cannabis could be grown. Talk about “one of the worst pot bills in the country”! It failed with just 36.4 percent of the vote.
  • 2012 – Oregon Measure 80: It would have allowed growers and processors to control five of seven seats on the commission created for regulation and price-setting, set no age limits or personal possession and cultivation limits, and completely deregulated industrial hemp. Talk about a “law written by the marijuana industry”! It failed with 46.6 percent of the vote.
  • 2010 – California Prop 19: It would have created protections for cannabis consumers in the workplace that opponents felt would end so-called Drug-Free Workplaces* and thus invalidate federal contracts with California firms. Talk about the industry’s “best interests… in mind”!  It failed with 46.5 percent of the vote.

These four failures show that you can’t just throw “legalizing recreational marijuana” on the ballot and “successfully [tap] into voter sentiment”. If the voters see a deal-breaker, they’ll reject legalization.

Boston Tea Party
“How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!” – Samuel Adams

So what five “fixes” does The Boston Globe columnist suggest for this “bad pot law”?

The Massachusetts law automatically allows pot shops… Communities must now vote by referendum to keep marijuana shops out… The Legislature should rewrite the recreational marijuana law to mirror Colorado’s opt-in concept.

This one really pisses me off because it echoes what we heard and experienced here in Oregon. We passed legalization that required a locality to hold a vote before it could ban marijuana licenses. Eastern counties, which had rejected the statewide measure, passed a law giving them a special privilege to be able to ban licenses without a public vote. Despite that, those counties still got their share of the special tax that was only being paid by cannabis consumers allowed to shop in the western counties.

The will of 53.6 percent of the people was that pot shops are legal until voters reject them. How do you make pot shops illegal until voters accept them without “undoing the will of the people”?

The Massachusetts law allows each individual to grow up to six marijuana plants at home for personal use… Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg… is urging lawmakers to get rid of the home-grow provision because it could hurt the retail market… In a recent “60 Minutes” segment… the sheriff of Pueblo County detailed how criminals are moving into the state and setting up… “illegal homegrows.”

The purpose of legalization is not to enrich government and corporations; it is to end the senseless and cruel imprisonment of citizens over a plant the Founding Fathers farmed! News flash, Treasurer Goldberg: criminals have always been criminals and will continue to be criminals. Just because fraudsters and robbers take advantage of the First and Second Amendments to commit their crimes doesn’t mean we repeal free speech and gun rights for law-abiding citizens.

The will of 53.6 percent of the people was that citizens have a right to grow their own cannabis. How do you nullify that right without “undoing the will of the people”?

Proponents of Question 4 kept the tax on marijuana on the low side — up to 12 percent — to discourage the black market. Sales are subject to an excise tax of 3.75 percent, plus the general sales tax of 6.25 percent. Cities and towns can apply an additional sales tax of 2 percent.

But our rate seems out of whack with Colorado and Washington, where effective tax rates range from 25 percent to 44 percent.

You’ve got to admire the chutzpah of a writer who can complain about the influence of black market marijuana in Colorado and Washington and then wants to boost taxes to the black-market-subsidizing rates we find in those two states.

The will of 53.6 percent of the people was that marijuana taxes should be low enough to discourage the black market. How do you double those taxes without “undoing the will of the people”?

The other two suggestions have to do with restructuring the cannabis commission to draw from appointments from the governor and attorney general to add to the treasury appointment and to set up systems for data gathering and public health support. These two changes would generally fall in line with the will of the voters.

If legislatures are going to drag their feet and not work on marijuana reform until we, the voters, force them to through passing initiatives, we need to be more explicit about what exactly it is we want. California’s Prop 64 contained amendment provisions that clearly staked out what could and could not be changed by the legislature. Look for future legalization campaigns to adopt that sort of language or to run constitutional amendments that legislators with a cavalier disrespect for the voters can’t gut as easily.

* Note: I’m completely for ending drug testing as a means of discrimination… but this is a bridge too far for the general electorate right now.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 191 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Russ Belville Show - The Voice of the Marijuana Nation, a two-hour live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on RadicalRuss.com (learn more on our Podcast page).  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 50 North American cities.