Published in the October 31, 2016 edition.

This is the final installment in the series reviewing each of the four ballot questions that will be decided by Massachusetts’ voters during the 2016 presidential election next Tuesday.


In addition to voting for president and a number of state offices, voters in the Nov. 8 election are facing several ballot questions. Question 4 involves legalizing marijuana for recreational use and allowing it to be sold commercially.

The proposed law under Question 4 would permit the possession, use, distribution and cultivation of marijuana in limited amounts by persons age 21 and older, and would remove criminal penalties for such activities. It would provide for the regulation of commerce in marijuana, marijuana accessories and marijuana products, and for the taxation of proceeds from sales of these items.

The proposed law would authorize persons at least 21 years old to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences; possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana inside their residences; grow up to six marijuana plants inside their residences; give one ounce or less of marijuana to a person at least 21 years old without payment; possess, produce or transfer hemp; or make or transfer items related to marijuana use, storage, cultivation or processing.

The measure would create a Cannabis Control Commission of three members appointed by the state Treasurer which would generally administer the law governing marijuana use and distribution, promulgate regulations and be responsible for the licensing of marijuana commercial establishments.

The proposed law would also create a Cannabis Advisory Board of 15 members appointed by the Governor. The Cannabis Control Commission would adopt regulations governing licensing qualifications, security, record keeping, health and safety standards, packaging and labeling, testing, advertising and displays, required inspections and such other matters as the Commission considers appropriate. The records of the Commission would be public records.

The proposed law would authorize cities and towns to adopt reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of operating marijuana businesses and to limit the number of marijuana establishments in their communities.

A city or town could hold a local vote to determine whether to permit the selling of marijuana and marijuana products for consumption on the premises at commercial establishments.

The proceeds of retail sales of marijuana and marijuana products would be subject to the state sales tax and an additional excise tax of 3.75 percent. A city or town could impose a separate tax of up to 2 percent. Revenue received from the additional state excise tax or from license application fees and civil penalties for violations of this law would be deposited in a Marijuana Regulation Fund and would be used subject to appropriation for administration of the proposed law.

Marijuana–related activities authorized under this proposed law could not be a basis for adverse orders in child welfare cases absent clear and convincing evidence that such activities had created an unreasonable danger to the safety of a minor child.

The proposed law would not affect existing law regarding medical marijuana treatment centers or the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence. It would permit property owners to prohibit the use, sale or production of marijuana on their premises (with an exception that landlords cannot prohibit consumption by tenants of marijuana by means other than by smoking) and would permit employers to prohibit the consumption of marijuana by employees in the workplace. State and local governments could continue to restrict uses in public buildings or at or near schools. Supplying marijuana to persons under age 21 would be unlawful.

The proposed law would take effect on Dec. 15, 2016.

Proponents of a “Yes” vote on Question 4 claim that the new law would replace the current unregulated market, controlled by drug dealers, with a tightly regulated system controlled by state and local authorities. They maintain that passing Question 4 would allow law enforcement to focus on serious and violent crimes.

Those in favor of Question 4 insist that the new law would include many more consumer safeguards than exist now, including strict business licensing, product testing, labeling and packaging. Marketing and sale of marijuana to minors would be prohibited, they say, as would using it in public or driving under the influence.

Proponents say that cities and towns will be able to limit or ban marijuana businesses and will govern operating hours, locations and signage.

They claim that taxing marijuana will generate an estimated $100 billion in annual revenue for state and local governments. They say that regulation and taxation is working in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, generating millions of dollars for education, infrastructure and more.

Those opposed to Question 4 warn that its passage will create a billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry that, just like Big Tobacco, would make millions on the backs of our communities, compromise health and safety and harm kids. Opponents urge a “No” vote on Question 4 because this measure:

• Allows the sale and marketing of highly-potent marijuana edibles like candy, cookies, gummy bears and soda that are attractive to young people and can lead to accidental overdose by kids and pets;

• Allows people to “home grow” thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana, even if neighbors object;

• Severely restricts the ability of cities and towns to control the number of marijuana retailers entering communities and allows pot shops to locate near preschools and playgrounds.

Opponents argue that Question 4 ignores the deadly opioid epidemic and the impact legalized pot will have on overall drug use.

This legalization scheme would force Massachusetts into the commercial marijuana industry, opponents say, even as communities across Colorado, the first state to legalize it, are trying to get out.

The state Executive Office of Administration and Finance issued the following statement regarding the fiscal consequences of Question 4:

“The fiscal consequences of this proposed measure may affect both projected state and municipal revenues and expenditures but these consequences are difficult to project due to the lack of reliable data. A March 2016 report from the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana concluded as follows: ‘Tax revenues and fees that would be generated from legal sales may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs (including regulation, enforcement, public health and safety and substance abuse treatment).’”

A “Yes” vote on Question 4 would allow persons age 21 and older to possess, use and transfer marijuana and products containing marijuana concentrate (including edible products) and to cultivate marijuana, all in limited amounts, and would provide for the regulation and taxation of the commercial sale of marijuana and marijuana products.

A “No” vote would make no change in current laws relative to marijuana.