Massachusetts Senate Expands Effort in Preparation for Potential Marijuana Legalization

Ramping up its efforts to be prepared in the event that a ballot initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts is successful in 2016, the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana today announced additional members of the committee as well as plans to travel to Colorado to learn from that state’s experience with marijuana legalization.

The purpose of the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana, as announced at its inception earlier this year, is to be proactive in researching and analyzing potential ramifications if Massachusetts voters were to legalize marijuana for recreational use, assuming an initiative petition to legalize marijuana will be on the ballot in the 2016 election.  Signatures for an initiative petition are filed with local election officials for certification, and then certified signatures are submitted to the Secretary of State by the first Wednesday in December.  Filers need to submit 64,750 certified signatures to proceed with an initiative petition, and it appears highly likely that the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol will collect a sufficient number of certified signatures.

The Committee has expanded its membership, and now includes ten Senators.  Chairman Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) has been joined by Senator Michael Moore (D-Millbury), who will serve as Vice Chair, as well as Senators Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester), Kenneth Donnelly (D-Arlington), Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Dorchester), John Keenan (D-Quincy), Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport), James Welch (D-West Springfield), Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), and Richard Ross (R-Wrentham).

Since its inception, the Committee has held dozens of meetings with a wide variety of stakeholders and conducted extensive research and analysis on various policy issues related to marijuana legalization.  The Committee has met with academics, public officials from Massachusetts and other states including Colorado and Washington (where legalization of marijuana for recreational use has already occurred), representatives from industry trade groups, medical experts and physicians, law enforcement officials, operators of medical marijuana dispensaries, and other stakeholders.  The Committee is in the process of analyzing a wide range of policy issues, including health impacts, public safety impacts, different kinds of marijuana products, product testing and potency, market structure, licensing and regulatory requirements, advertising and marketing restrictions, taxes, home growing, local control, driving under the influence, and compliance with federal law.

In partnership with the Milbank Memorial Fund, the Committee is preparing a research trip to Colorado in January.  Colorado has had more than a year of experience with legal sales of recreational marijuana.  The Committee’s interests and questions for Colorado regulators, market participants, and other experts are wide ranging, from how marijuana product is tracked from seed to sale, to how law enforcement officers manage drugged-driving traffic stops, to how the state is regulating medical marijuana alongside recreational marijuana, as well as dozens of other pertinent policy questions with which Colorado has had direct experience.

The Milbank Memorial Fund is a nonpartisan health policy foundation committed to improving population health.  Through communications and meetings that foster collegiality, trust, and knowledge, the Fund strengthens the ability of state leaders to make good health policy decisions.

“The legalization of recreational marijuana crosses into many different policy areas including public safety, public health, revenue, licensing, and regulation to name a few.    With the pending ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana is thoroughly examining all of the ramifications this might have on the residents of Massachusetts,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “We need data driven research to prepare for the debate or, if it becomes law, to ensure successful implementation.”

“The Committee is making excellent progress in understanding the complex issues that arise when considering marijuana legalization,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the Special Committee’s Chairman.  “Expanding the committee membership and spending time on the ground in Colorado will enable us to strengthen and further refine our analysis and recommendations, which we look forward to sharing early next year.”

The Committee anticipates the release of its report and policy recommendations in early 2016 to the full Senate and the public.  The Senate will then consider what action, if any, should be taken by the body.  Any potential legislation that may result would go through the full legislative process, including public hearings at that time.