Massachusetts: Pot Activists Battle Each Other Over Legalization

Despite technically being on the same side, marijuana reform activists continue to duke it out with one another in pursuit of the “perfect” plan to end prohibition in the state of Massachusetts.

A couple of organizations wielding two very different proposals with the intent of legalizing recreational marijuana will go to war this week to determine which group will reign victorious in their effort to earn a spot on the ballot in the 2016 election.

Instead of combining their resources to embark on a powerful campaign to bring an end to prohibition, the two groups—which are expected to submit the language of their initiatives to Attorney General Maura Healey before the end of the week—are hell bent on legalizing weed their own way. One proposes establishing a taxed and regulated cannabis industry, while the other suggests imposing just enough regulation to drive out the black market.

Although it is likely that both initiatives will be cleared by the state to begin collecting the necessary signatures for inclusion on next year’s ballot, it will ultimately be up to each group’s financial competence and their ability to drum up support for their respective initiatives that will dictate their success in the next phase of the game.

Much like the four states that have already legalized recreational marijuana—Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska—the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts looks to create a retail cannabis market, complete with a 3.75 percent special tax that would be imposed in conjunction with the state’s sales tax, while also allowing adult residents to cultivate up to six plants for personal use. The proposal projects the pot market would be up and running by January 2018, which supporters believe would give the medical marijuana sector sufficient enough time to defect to the recreational trade.

In addition to this initiative’s regulatory design, what gives it the best chance for survival is the fact that it is supported by the Marijuana Policy Project, which is a national advocacy group with enough resources at its disposal to ensure the appropriate funding to bring the plan to fruition. In fact, it seems that every initiative that receives the support of the MMP—like Amendment 64 in Colorado back in 2012—are the ones who emerge victorious at the end of an election year.

The second group, Bay State Repeal, which seeks to legalize the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana—but without creating an industry—suggests that allowing a free market on recreational marijuana is the best route.

Bay State Repeal argues that their initiative is better than the one proposed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts because “the tax, the limit on how many plants you can have, and the creation of a brand new bureaucracy” that the CRMLA is suggesting would not be conducive to the elimination of the back market. Supporters of BSR also imply that the heavily regulated market under the CRMLA proposal would infringe on “individual liberty” while “safeguarding the profiteers.”

According to Whitney Taylor, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the America Civil Liberties Union, this is far from true. She recently told The Boston Globe that tight regulations would not impose on civil liberties, but rather, protect the interest of public safety.

Both groups will reportedly submit their initiatives to the attorney general’s office sometime Wednesday afternoon. If they meet her approval, organizers from each respective organization will be challenged to collect around 65,000 voter signatures before this November in order to go before the voting population in next year’s presidential election.

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