America’s historic hotbed of independence from tyranny tossed marijuana prohibition overboard in Tuesday, as voters in Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis for adults.
With the approval of Question 4—early results showed it with a 53 percent majority—Massachusetts and tonight’s other early winner, California, join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska as allowing adults 21 and over to possess and cultivate small amounts of the country’s favorite heretofore-illicit drug—and becomes the first state on the East Coast to strike laws forbidding marijuana use by adults from the books.
Beginning Dec. 15, adults 21 and over in the state will be able to possess up to an ounce and cultivate six plants in their homes. Possession of more than ten ounces in the home is still forbidden, as are sales without a state license. Farmers can also grow and process hemp without running afoul of the law.
Voters, who saw nearly every major politician in the state oppose the measure, were also subjected to spurious scaremongering from opponents, who trotted out the exploded gateway theory to scare legalization away.
Another New England state, Maine, also had marijuana legalization on the ballot on Tuesday.
The vote signifies a rapid progression on cannabis in the state, which only allowed medical marijuana beginning in 2013—and then only for a few very serious conditions. Only 28,000 patients had access to no more than ten ounces each every two months, available from no more than 35 dispensaries according to NORML.
Support for the measure, always strong, exceeded the 60 percent mark as the election drew near, according to polling, despite widespread opposition from influential politicians, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Attorney General Maura Healey, and religious, law enforcement, and health organizations.
In a fair microcosm of the societal split on the issue, the Boston Globe, the region’s biggest newspaper, endorsed the measure; while the smaller and more conservative Boston Herald opposed Question 4.
As in other states, the Yes on 4 enjoyed a significant advantage in fundraising, with the pro-legalization campaign raising $6.3 million, mostly from national drug reform groups, compared to $2.8 million for the prohibitionists–whose biggest single donor was Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate.
Though possession and cultivation are now legal, sales are another issue. Recreational cannabis retail stores are not expected to open until 2018 at the earliest, and if the drawn-out spat over the state’s medical—marijuana dispensaries is any indication, there’s no guarantee that every Massachusetts resident will live within driving distance of legal weed.
That said, this is expected to be a tipping point in drug policy reform in New England. Every New England state aside from Connecticut has legal medical marijuana, and observers in Rhode Island, including elected officials, believe that legalization of cannabis there is a logical next step.
But don’t expect anything to change overnight–including the sudden collapse of the sky. According to experts like Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron, life will go on in the Bay State much as normal—just with more tax revenue.
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