Marijuana Legalization Group Submits First Draft of Ballot Question

A group hoping to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts has submitted a draft of a proposed ballot question to the state attorney general's office.

Bay State Repeal said the question would let adults 21 or older grow and buy the drug while taking steps to ban sales to minors, including undercover sting operations at stores that sell pot. Those who provide marijuana to minors - except as recommended by a doctor - would face fines and potential jail time.

The question wouldn't require marijuana sellers be licensed by the state.

"Criminalizing marijuana to keep it away from young people has backfired completely," says Bill Downing of Bay State Repeal. "Street dealers don't check ID."

The proposal would update other state laws.

It would require that state and private employers treat adult consumers of marijuana the same way they treat consumers of alcoholic beverages and largely prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant for cultivating or possessing marijuana. However, landlords could include a ban on cultivating marijuana in new leases.

The proposed question would not tax marijuana sales, which has been a major selling point in states that have legalized pot.

There are other efforts underway to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts.

A separate bill before state lawmakers would tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol and allow adults 21 years or older to possess and grow marijuana.

It would also create a regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, processing facilities and testing facilities.

The bill is being pushed by a second pro-legalization group - the Marijuana Policy Project - which says it plans to put its own question on the 2016 ballot to regulate and tax marijuana if the bill fails to win support on Beacon Hill.

Attorney General Maura Healey said her office, if asked, will give a potential ballot question a preliminary review to help supporters understand if there are any constitutional problems. It's up to the attorney general's office to decide whether the final version of any question passes constitutional muster.

Healey told reporters Friday her personal opposition to legalizing marijuana will have no influence on the review.

"These petition proposals come in and the responsibility of our office is to review them and work with proponents to make sure that they are following the rules in terms of what it permitted for a ballot initiative petition," she said.

Healey said her office also wants to help make sure the language of ballot questions is clear so voters understand what they are being asked to decide.

Submitting a question for initial review is the first step in a long process.

Once a ballot question passes constitutional muster, the hard work begins for supporters to collect the tens of thousands of signatures of voters needed to secure a spot on the November ballot.

Massachusetts voters have been open to the idea of relaxing marijuana prohibitions.

In 2008, they approved a question decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

In 2012, they approved a question legalizing up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries statewide. That effort has stalled with no dispensaries currently open.



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