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Mass. Votes To Legalize Recreational Marijuana02:56

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In this 2015 file photo, young marijuana plants stand under lamps at a marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Washington. (Elaine Thompson/AP)closemore
In this 2015 file photo, young marijuana plants stand under lamps at a marijuana growing facility in Arlington, Washington. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Massachusetts has joined a handful of states in allowing recreational marijuana.

By a margin of 54 to 46 percent (with 96 percent of precincts reporting), voters approved a ballot question that will allow adults 21 and older to be in possession of pot and grow it at home starting on Dec. 15. And weed could be for sale in stores by Jan. 1, 2018, unless the state Legislature moves that date further into the future.

'Massachusetts Again At The Forefront'

A Back Bay pub in Boston erupted in cheers just before midnight as Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for Yes on 4, hopped onto a chair and pumped his fist in the air.

"The voters of Massachusetts should be very proud, to put Massachusetts again at the forefront of a sweeping social movement in America," he said.

Voters in California and Nevada also voted to legalize marijuana on Tuesday.

Supporters argued that making marijuana legal was long overdue. And Shanel Lindsay, who helped draft the ballot question, says she will no longer have to worry that police might use marijuana as a reason to stop her on the street.

"And unfortunately, when you’re a minority, you’re more likely, four times more likely to be stopped for intent to distribute and I’m not subject to arrest anymore," she said.

The landmark change will be managed by a new three-member Cannabis Control Commission named in the law and to be appointed by state Treasurer Deb Goldberg. A 15-member advisory board appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker will make recommendations about the best ways to regulate legal marijuana.

Sen. Jason Lewis expects the Legislature to bring in public health experts, law enforcement and local leaders to review public health and safety aspects of legal marijuana.

Some Questions Remain

There are areas where the ballot question is completely silent. For example, it doesn’t address the issue of drugged driving.

Lewis chaired a special Massachusetts Senate committee on marijuana this year and opposed legalization. But now that voters have approved the measure, Lewis said the Legislature may add some details.

"For example, exactly what kinds of marijuana products would able to be legally sold," he explained. "I think we would be looking to really flush out what is in the ballot question."

The Legislature can amend the act passed by voters, but the Yes campaign's spokesman Borghesani urges lawmakers to let the new Cannabis Control Commission take charge.

"We would suggest that they wait until regulators actually come up with the structure of the system and then decide if they want to make any changes," Borghesani said.

Lewis said there won’t be any money to set up the commission outlined in the law until after stores are open and generating revenue. Speaking of revenue, the Legislature is also talking about raising the proposed tax rate on sales of marijuana.

Legislative leaders seem to agree on trying to increase the 12 percent effective tax rate. That’s a combination of the 6.25 percent state sales tax, a new 3.75 percent excise tax and a 2 percent tax communities could impose.

Some lawmakers are also talking about extending the deadline for new marijuana regulations, which could delay the start of commercial sales.

To protect against use by children, marijuana would be sold in childproof packaging, and the measure prohibits marketing or ads aimed at children.

Voter approval also means that as of Dec. 15, it will no longer be illegal to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, or up to 5 grams of concentrate, in public. Using weed in public would still be banned. Residents will be allowed up to 10 ounces at home, although 9 of those must be locked away.

Marijuana possession would still be illegal in federal buildings. Private landlords and state housing authorities will have the option of banning homegrown weed. Where allowed, individuals will be able to grow up to six plants. The limit, per household, is 12 plants.

Question 4 was not the most expensive statewide ballot campaign during this election; that honor goes to the charter school initiative. But supporters of making marijuana legal did spend $6,263,995, more than twice the total for opponents, $2,953,312.

Both groups pulled in major contributions from out of state. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, as well beer and wine distributors and Partners HealthCare, helped fund opposition to making marijuana legal. Supporters included New Approach, an advocacy group started by an Ohio executive who used marijuana to cope with pain after a surgery.

This story has been updated with our Morning Edition feature.

Earlier Explainer:

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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