Beacon Hill Rewrites Question 4 -- For Better or For Worse?

Over the past week, a group of largely affluent, old white men gathered behind closed doors to craft a bill that they plan to ram through with as little debate as possible.

No, I'm not talking about Senate Republicans in DC. I'm talking about Democrats here in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Last year, Progressive Massachusetts--like more than 53% of Massachusetts voters--supported Question 4, the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Massachusetts voters understood that the drug war has proven costly, ineffective, and socially destructive.

Marijuana legalization went to the ballot because the Legislature punted on the vital questions of how and whether to do it.

Now that Question 4 passed, the Legislature plans to amend it. And they will start voting TODAY.

They can choose to make the law better, or they can choose to make it worse.

Unfortunately, the House plans to make it worse.

How so? The House’s proposed bill...

  • More than doubles the tax on marijuana, creating the conditions for a black market to flourish;

  • Eliminates the ability of voters to have a direct say over local marijuana policy; and

  • Leaves out key measures to advance racial and social justice.

This bill would take us backwards. Please urge your Representative to vote NO.*

The Senate’s proposed bill, led by Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), offers a better way forward.** In contrast to the House bill, it...

  • Maintains the tax level of Question 4 and the local referendum process;

  • Contains language to promote economic opportunities in communities hurt by the drug war;

  • Promotes energy and water efficiency in the industry;

  • Directs the Department of Public Health to create a science-based public awareness campaign to reduce youth usage and promote responsible usage;

  • Directs the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to create a campaign to inform people eligible to have their criminal records sealed; and

  • Seeks to create a more level industry playing field by promoting the inclusion of small farmers, small businesses, and cooperatives.

The Senate bill improves upon Question 4, while remaining faithful in spirit. Please urge your Senator to vote YES.

Don’t know who your legislators are? Look them up here, and then put their numbers in your phone for next time!


*118 amendments to the bill have been filed. Many of them would make the bill better, including Rep. Aaron Vega's amendments #1 (expungement of marijuana arrest records), #5 (protection of parents of minor children), and #6 (appropriate tax rate); and Rep. Russell Holmes's #38 (Minority and Women Owned Businesses Inclusion) and #41 (Promote and Encourage Full Participation in Disproportionately Harmed Communities); among others.

**111 amendments to the bill have been filed, including progressive ones such as Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz's #20 (Sealing Records for Previous Marijuana Convictions), Sen. Joseph Boncore's #76 (Expungement of Class D Possession), and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry's #104 (Intentional Inclusion in the Cannabis Industry), among others.

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commented 2017-06-21 09:06:21 -0400 · Flag
Although Jehlen’s bill is much better than the House bill, it still makes one key mistake that the House also made: the method of choosing the commissioners. The current governor is opposed to legalization, as is nearly the entire law enforcement community. Therefore, the composition of the commission as proposed is a recipe for obstructionism, especially since the two commissioners chosen by majority vote will surely be chosen by 2-1 votes with the treasurer left out. Thus four of the five commissioners will be opponents of the goals of the commission.

The commission as proposed in the referendum act – entirely under the control of the treasurer, a pro-business office that will support the goal of legalization – would give us a commission that would move legalization forward. The commission we will get from this amendment will not.
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