Massachusetts is known as a liberal haven for progressive policy. It was the first state to legalize gay marriage and is a consistent blue when election time comes around. The Bay State is also home to a number of progressive policies when it comes to cannabis, passing a decriminalization law in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012. It’s because the state, like many other states that have implemented new and better policies regarding cannabis, allows for the process of a ballot initiative. This means that if a group collects enough signatures for their proposal it will appear on the ballot in the next election and if enough people vote, it will become law.
The effects of the reform efforts in Massachusetts could be seen clearly at the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann/NORML) Boston Freedom Rally, an annual event in its 26th year that took place the last weekend of September. It’s the nation’s second largest marijuana rally (after Seattle Hempfest) and is impossible not to see as a celebration in addition to a political movement. The Freedom Rally has always been about fighting for and exercising rights, but it wasn’t always so easy to be free.
Until a decriminalization initiative passed, smoking cannabis in public was something that could land you in quite a bit of trouble. Now (unless you’re in a vehicle) it is a $100 civil fine for up to 28 grams and not probable cause to further search a person or their belongings. In 2012, the people of Massachusetts passed a medical marijuana law that the state has been implementing ever since and several court cases have upheld these laws. One judge even ruled that the smell of unburned cannabis in a car was not probable cause to search the vehicle because there’s no way to tell whether it is more or less than the one ounce limit and cars cannot be searched for civil infractions.
Another indication of positive change at this year’s event was that booths filled with glass lined the walks, a sharp contrast from the first Freedom Rally in 2006 when vendors hid a small selection of pipes and bongs under blankets. This year, however, Massachusetts’s paraphernalia law made it impossible to vend these items openly. Despite that limitation, a wide variety of functional glass was on display and could be seen in use in many stoner circles on the fields. All this while the police stood by doing exactly what the voters of Massachusetts want them to do about smokers – absolutely nothing.
Massachusetts is gearing up for a legalization campaign in 2016. Two groups are currently collecting signatures for initiatives, which would each help on a state level by legalizing cannabis for adult use and on a national level by sending a message to the federal government that keeping marijuana as a Schedule I substance is not the will of the state.
That being said, they are two very different visions of legalization. MassCann volunteers are collecting signatures for local activist group Bay State Repeal’s (BSR) initiative petition, which the organization has officially endorsed. Volunteers were also assisting with voter registration at the Freedom Rally, an important first step towards change. Other canvassers were on site to collect names for“Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” (CRMLA) initiative, backed by the national reform organization the Marijuana Policy Project. There are many differences between the two proposed models of legalization, which could both wind up on the same ballot next year – BSR’s model advocates for restrictions on the plant only where necessary (such as minimum age, while CRMLA’s plan imposes higher tax rates and tighter restrictions in areas such as home cultivation numbers and the amount of cannabis that is legal to possess.
Some activists are urging support for both bills because either is an improvement to the current system, while others are encouraging folks to hold out for the one they truly want to see implemented. It is the struggle of blazing a trail in a landscape of unknowns. With only four states that have legalized adult-use cannabis, there has yet to be standard set for the kinds of specifications necessary when legalizing cannabis for adult recreational use. Whatever transpires, it’s clear that Massachusetts is ready to give legalization a try as well, one way or the other.
Do you think Massachusetts voters will legalize cannabis? Let us know in the comments.