Group Proposing Mass. Marijuana Law

Under the proposal, adults 21 years of age and older would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and also grow a "limited" amount of the drug in their home

Massachusetts voters could get a chance to decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana if any of several proposed pro-pot questions filed with the state attorney general's office Wednesday reach the 2016 ballot.

A group called The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted an initiative petition on Wednesday that would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and also grow a "limited" amount of the plant in their homes.

It would set up a regulated system of licensed marijuana retail outlets, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities and testing facilities overseen by a commission similar to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.

The question would also create a new 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales in addition to the standard state sales tax of 6.25 percent. The question would also allow cities and towns to set an additional local sales tax of up to 2 percent. Medical marijuana wouldn't be subject to the additional taxes.

Supporters say that laws outlawing marijuana are misguided.

"Marijuana prohibition has been an abysmal failure," said the group's campaign director Will Luzier. "It's been a failure like alcohol prohibition."

A second pro-legalization group, Bay State Repeal, said it was submitting three possible versions of a ballot question.

The group said all three would legalize the acquisition, possession, consumption and cultivation of marijuana by anyone 21 years and older for their personal use while also focusing on preventing non-medical distribution to children.

The question wouldn't create any additional taxes beyond the state's existing sales tax. Supporters say taxing marijuana too heavily could help stoke a black market for the drug.

Steven Epstein, one of the question's supporters, also said the measure relies on existing state regulations.

"We're not creating more bureaucracy," he said.

Although both groups said they preferred their versions, they did not rule out the possibility of joining forces at some point.

Critics include Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

"Virtually everybody I know in the addiction community says this is a bad idea and most of the people I know in the health care world say it's a bad idea," Baker told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "And for those who say that the reason we should support this is because it's an easy way to raise money, I think that's like the worst answer of all."

Massachusetts voters have been open to relaxing marijuana laws.

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.

Wednesday is the deadline for filing proposed questions for the 2016 state ballot.

Submitting the proposed language of a question is just the first step in a long journey to the ballot.

The attorney general's office is charged with reviewing a question to see whether it meets certain constitutional requirements and can be certified. Once a question is certified, sponsors must gather at least 64,750 signatures by Nov. 28.

If lawmakers fail to adopt the question by May 3, sponsors must gather another 10,792 signatures to secure a spot on the November ballot next year.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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