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Massachusetts to Vote on Marijuana Legalization in November

Massachusetts has been a pioneer of new and often controversial policies for decades. It was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and to create a system providing healthcare to all of its citizens. This November, the Bay State could join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, and the District of Columbia as one of the few places in the United States to legalize recreational marijuana.

The question of legalization was recently introduced to the legislature through the ballot initiative via petition and will be decided on by voters in November. This legislation's proposal, however, differed from the norm in recent years.

Typically, once a certain number of valid signatures are procured, the proposed law goes through the General Court—the legislative body of Massachusetts—where it is either initiated by a majority vote or sent to the ballot for the final decision. In this case, the majority did not vote in the initiative's favor, so on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, citizens will decide if the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act will become law.

The act would regulate and tax the production and distribution of marijuana “in a manner similar to alcohol,” according to the text. If passed, a citizen would be able to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in his or her primary residence and grow up to six plants at a time for personal use.

The law would also establish tax levels and certain legal definitions, but one of the most important features would be the establishment of a Cannabis Control Commission, which would be the primary source for the development and creation of marijuana policies. The Commission would be responsible for issuing licenses in addition to implementing other regulations that shape how marijuana is used and distributed.

Fr. Richard McGowan, an associate professor of the practice in the Finance Department at the Carroll School of Management, has spent a large part of his professional career studying public policies connected to the vices of tobacco and gambling, and has more recently been applying his vast experience to forthcoming legislation.

On the benefits and drawbacks of passing the legislation, McGowan said, “It would certainly be a revenue producer for the state, and if it’s done right, it will certainly affect the illegal market.”

McGowan also voiced support for studies showing that increased use of medical marijuana leads to decreases in opioid dependence, a significant statistic in light of the opioid epidemic in New England.

Another problem is that there is currently no widely available method for testing if someone is high while driving. A breathalyzer cannot detect THC accurately, and the chemical can stay in the body for several days, making it difficult for blood or urine tests to tell if someone smoked three minutes ago or three days ago.

McGowan believes the bill will be much more likely to pass if there is a higher than average voter turnout amongst young people—which could occur this year due to the high-profile presidential election.

Many institutions of higher education, however, are expected to refuse to comply with the legislation if it passes. Under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, schools could lose access to federal student aid and other forms of funding if they do not comply with the federal laws that still categorize marijuana in the same group as heroin.

If more states continue to legalize marijuana, the federal government may be pressured to lift its ban and concede the final decision to the individual states.