Two separate advocacy groups pushing for the legalization of marijuana in Massachusetts have begun collecting voter signatures aimed at a statewide ballot measure next year, reported The Republican, a news outlet based in Springfield, Massachusetts, Thursday. The groups have significant differences in thought regarding the regulation and taxation of legal weed, and both aim to have their proposals featured on the November 2016 ballot.
State Attorney General Maura Healey approved the competing ballot questions, meaning both groups are now scrambling to collect the necessary voter signatures to have their proposals put before voters in 2016. While both groups want to legalize recreational marijuana, their approaches to how it would be carried out are vastly different.
Bay State Repeal, the lesser-funded of the two groups, wants to legalize marijuana without new regulations or restrictions other than adding Massachusetts' 6.25 percent state sales tax to purchases. Bay State Repeal's competition, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is better funded and has more powerful backers. Advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project helped create the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which raised about $30,000 by the end of 2014, compared with $3,000 for Bay State Repeal, according to The Republican.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol wants to place tighter regulations on legalized recreational marijuana, and increase state and local taxes to 12 percent. It would also set up a commission to oversee marijuana retail stores, while limiting the amount of the drug a person could possess or grow. The differences in proposals mean the two groups aren't necessarily inclined to work together.
"It's just a friendly competition," Steven Epstein, a spokesman for Bay State Repeal, told The Republican.
In order to make the 2016 ballot, each group must collect 64,750 voter signatures by November. Both measures could potentially make the 2016 ballot.
Legislation to legalize recreational marijuana has passed in four states -- Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska -- as well as Washington, D.C. Advocacy groups in a number of other states are attempting pass legalization efforts as well. Situations similar to Massachusetts' advocacy group competition have begun playing out across the country.
Two Michigan groups, MI Legalize and the Michigan Cannabis Coalition, have competed to get their initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana on the 2016 ballot. In Maine, two advocacy groups, Legalize Maine and the Marijuana Policy Project, are competing against one another after negotiations to find a compromise failed.
A Boston Globe poll last year found that 48 percent of voters in Massachusetts would support a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21 years old, compared with 47 percent who would oppose. Medical marijuana is legal in the state, with the first dispensaries having opened in June.