Massachusetts voters will take to the polls today to answer the polarizing Question 4, which aims to legalize the recreational use and commercialization of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Should the Commonwealth collectively answer “yes” on Question 4, Massachusetts would become the first state in New England to fully legalize marijuana, beating early favorites like Vermont and Rhode Island to the proverbial punch.
As we showed you in September, the battle for position in the polls was quite heated at times. However, as the dust has nearly settled, the latest polls show some very positive results for those seeking to end marijuana prohibition in Massachusetts.
In the most recent poll from Western New England University Polling Institute, 61 percent of likely voters supported marijuana legalization, while a comparatively tiny 34 percent were opposed (5 percent of the poll’s respondents claimed to remain undecided on Question 4). The 27 percent difference is massive in polling terms and gives a slight inclination to how the state’s voters may lean on Election Day, as the numbers mark a major shift since just last month. In a September poll, 52 percent of respondents supported legalization, while 42 percent were against the idea; just a 10 percent difference.
All throughout the campaign process the opposition to Question 4 focused much of their time and effort appealing to fearful parents, a strategy that may not have paid off. The WNEU Polling Institute stated, “Although opponents of marijuana legalization have targeted some of their arguments toward parents, the survey found that 63 percent of likely voters who have children under the age of 18 support legalization, while 60 percent of voters who do not have minor children also back legalization.”
With Massachusetts polling so strongly in favor of marijuana legalization, it’s fair to say that Maine may have competition for the first New England state to end prohibition. Massachusetts is a major hub in the region, and a major shift in marijuana legislation is sure to cause waves in the states that surround it.
Both sides of Connecticut’s legal marijuana debate are keeping a watchful eye on the Question 4 vote in Massachusetts, as it will have a tremendous effect on how the issue is handled in the Constitution State. Connecticut decriminalized cannabis possession (under a half-ounce) in 2011 and legalized medical marijuana the following year, but full legalization has remained elusive.
In a 2015 Quinnipiac University poll of CT voters, 63 percent of respondents said they supported legalizing marijuana for recreational use. A bill that aimed to legalize, regulate, and tax the plant was introduced later that year and had roughly a dozen co-sponsors from the Democratic side of the aisle. Supporters of the bill argued that Connecticut needed to be the first state in the region to legalize marijuana for adult use because they’d lose out on precious tax resources otherwise. Opponents of the bill were hesitant to use what they referred to as “blood money” to fix the state’s economic woes, although gambling revenue from two of the world’s largest casinos (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun) stuff the state’s coffers year after year.
The bill fell flat, and because Connecticut doesn’t have the option to cultivate new ballot initiatives, a new attempt at legalization will have to wait until legislature approves a bill and Governor Dannel Malloy signs off on it. The first four states to end marijuana prohibition (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) all achieved legalization via ballot initiatives.
Should new marijuana legislation make its way to Governor Malloy’s desk, he is steadfast in his opposition, as decriminalization and medical marijuana are the furthest he is willing to budge on the matter.
“I’ve done my part on marijuana,” Malloy said on Sunday to a group of Democratic supporters.
“We did medical and we did decriminalization [of small amounts of marijuana].”
“I’d rather not encourage it, which I think legalization does,” Malloy added. “Never say never, but it’s not my priority.”
Our Nation’s smallest state is taking some big steps toward legalization, but they are being careful not to rush things. Rhode Island legalized marijuana for medical use in 2006, but the state is being very careful about how it proceeds with recreational legislature. Governor Gina Raimondo expanded oversight of the state’s medical program in this year’s fiscal planning. Raimondo cited the need to ready the state for the next step of full legalization as the reason for the increased surveillance on the state’s budding industry.
“I’m taking a slower approach to make sure [that] if we do it, we get it right,” said Gov. Raimondo. When asked about looming legalization in Connecticut’s neighbor to the north, Massachusetts, the Governor replied, “we have to look at it harder and faster.”
Gov. Raimondo went on to add, “If we legalize too quickly and without the right regulation, I worry about children, I worry about high schoolers, I worry about edibles.”
If the polling in Massachusetts is any indication, parents don’t seem to be quite as worried about legal marijuana as their elected officials.
Like Rhode Island, Vermont is very worried about the “risk” that edibles pose to the state’s children. The Green Mountain State’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, has said that he does want his state to legalize and regulate marijuana for recreational use, but on their terms and no one else’s. Gov. Shumlin has called Question 4 in Massachusetts a “bad pot bill,” and made it clear that he would rather legalize through legislature than a bill initiative. Shumlin has expressed that Vermont’s long-term plan to legalize is “the most careful, deliberate attempt to regulate marijuana in America.”
“The bill’s approach is in stark contrast to the one proposed in the Massachusetts referendum that will be voted on in November, which would allow edibles that have caused huge problems in other states, smoking lounges, home delivery service, and possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana. Vermont’s bill allows none of that,” Shumlin penned on his blog. “If Massachusetts moves forward with their legalization bill while Vermont delays, the entire southern part of our state could end up with all the negatives of a bad pot bill and none of the positives of doing the right thing.”
Jim Borghesani, the Communication Director for the Question 4 campaign in MA, got wind of Gov. Shumlin’s stance and offered a rebuttal. “He seems to focus on edibles as a negative and, unfortunately, I think he’s falling into the same exaggerations when it comes to edibles that a lot of other people have,” said Borghesani. “The problems with edibles in Colorado were pretty much contained to the first year of legal sales. The packaging has been changed, the portioning has been changed. It’s a learning process.”
“Just like any young industry, working through some things that they didn’t get right the first time around and we have the great advantage of learning, learning the best practices, looking at what’s happened in other states, learning from their initial early errors and making sure they don’t occur in Massachusetts,” Borghesani added. “We have every reason to think that when legal sales begin in 2018, that we will have the most advanced packaging and the most stringent labeling in the nation.”
Cover Image Courtesy of Boston.com