How Soon Until Massachusetts Legalizes Marijuana?

Advocates for full-scale legalization say efforts might take off sooner than you think.

Photo via Flickr

The Marijuana Policy Project announced this week that Massachusetts lawmakers, as well as those in a few other New England states, are preparing to introduce new legislation that would legalize recreational weed use, raising the question: how long can we expect to wait after passage of the  medical marijuana initiative in Massachusetts before efforts for full legalization really take off? Activists we spoke with said we probably shouldn’t be surprised at a quick turnaround after this month’s election.

In Massachusetts, the initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed with overwhelming support — 63 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of legalization, while just 37 percent voted against it — allowing the Bay State to join the ranks of the 17 other states (and the District of Columbia) where marijuana is legal for medical use.

Although marijuana reform didn’t pass in many places where it was on the ballot this election season, it made huge gains in others. In Colorado and Washington, voters pushed the ballot even further, and approved the legalization of its recreational use.

“It’s the best election we’ve had since prohibition began,” says Morgan Fox, a representative from the Marijuana Policy Project, a DC-based lobbying firm seeking the legalization of medical and non-medical marijuana. “And we’re only going to see continued improvement in our marijuana laws as more people become comfortable with sensible reform.”

Until now, people have only been exposed to negative stories about marijuana, says Bill Downing, treasurer of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann). “Whenever they see it in the newspapers, it’s because some drug dealer was arrested or shot in a parking lot.” We can expect the new legislation “to normalize attitudes toward cannabis,” he says. A whole new set of stories will be out. “People’s ideas are going to change when they hear about old Mrs. Perty at the end of the street— who’s suffering from rheumatoid arthritis— and who finds that medical cannabis can help her control her symptoms,” said Downing.

But sympathy for the medical marijuana issue does not necessarily create support for full-scale legalization.

“There’s a huge dichotomy between medical and non-medical marijuana,” Fox notes. Note, for instance, that of the 18 states in which medical marijuana is legal, initiatives to legalize its recreational use have only made it on the ballot in four.  Of those four states, the initiatives have only been successful in two.  And many of the advocates that pushed for medical marijuana in Massachusetts — like the ACLU and the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance — aren’t interested in anything beyond giving physicians the right to prescribe pot to their suffering patients, as Casey Lyons noted in our October cover story.

That doesn’t necessarily mean reform will be as slow here. Reform groups like MassCann — who see legalization as the end goal of the movement — are rapidly gaining momentum. In just six years, they’ve succeeded in their initiatives to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and to legalize its medical use.

“All of this,” said Downing, “is setting the stage for the regulated adult use of marijuana.”

Downing cited the results of two public policy questions — which were included on the ballot in six of Massachusetts’s 10 congressional districts — as evidence. 63 percent of respondents voted for the state to end the prohibition of marijuana in the three districts where the question was asked. And in three other districts, 73 percent of respondents voted for the state to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. The responses of absentee ballots are still being counted, Downing noted, so the official results are still subject to change. But over 100,000 responses have been recorded so far, and they have been positive.

The poll results are going to attract reform-minded donors with deep pockets from across the country — donors who are going to see that there’s more existing support for reform in Massachusetts than in other states, Downing says, and who are going to believe that if they ran an initiative in Massachusetts, they would win.

Massachusetts’s voters can expect to see an initiative on the ballot to end prohibition in 2016, said Downing. This means the day is rapidly approaching when Massachusetts’s voters will have to decide in favor of the widespread legalization of marijuana, or to let the steps that reformers have taken toward that goal in the last six years go up in smoke.

  • Rawrface

    I think it’s time we start legalizing Marijuana everywhere. Stop living in fear and start thinking about how great the future will be! LEGALIZE IT!

    Why don’t we just start legalizing it everywhere? Why are so many people still stuck in this FEAR stage…? Stop worrying, start hoping. LEGALIZE IT!

    If you live in a state where Marijuana isn’t legal yet and still want the same type of highs, I suggest checking out It has amazingly detailed legal highs reviews and where to get them without getting ripped off!
    Also! I’m starting up a new forum dedicated to my fellows stoners. Come on over and join the high conversations! We’re quite new, but VERY welcoming.


  • knowa

    Please sign the White House petition to let Marc Emery complete his sentence in Canada

  • Ruth Perkins

    While machine guns, hateful video games, movies, talk show hosts & FDA approved money making drugs with huge side affects legally dominate our society & culture with damaging side affects & explosive murders I, can’t go into a store, show my ID and peacefully purchase a joint.
    A joint does not lead to harder drugs. The culture does.
    Indians used Marijuana for many medicinal purposes including, but not limited to birth control. It is the best reliever of menstrual cramps.
    It’s so dangerous to go to the street to search for Marijuana because the sellers are usually in control, whoever, and whatever they may be up to, though not all are up to no good. Still I never know.
    And, why is it that the illegal sellers are getting rich while the government grows poorer and if taxed and controlled the sale would add needed money to the country rather than to those who are caught up in the culture of guns and hate?
    It wasn’t that long ago that I could stand beside a police officer and peacefully smoke a joint. It wasn’t that long ago that I could safely purchase a joint from a police officer.
    I don’t think Tobacco companies should be the corporate leader of Marijuana though. They already showed how contaminating cigarettes with poisons was more important than selling pure tobacco.
    And if we’re so worried about the smoking part…then why are we still polluting our air, our water, our whole environment? Really?
    LEGALIZE it….it’s nature’s natural remedy.

  • W. F. NOBLE


  • george

    There isn’t any bad long term side effects for people over 18 and for the effects under 18 the bad effects are widely disputed. It has been shown to be less adictive than caffeen and has none if any withdrawl symptomes.
    I say legalize it for 18+ in licenced pot centered stores and to be able to grow up to 10 plants (5 flowering at a time) for 18+ users.
    The new law to legalize it in Rhode island is very likely to pass with strong support soon this year, we should pass it too and generate much needed tax revanue from it.

  • Damien

    It’s mostly the government’s fault for having the press always put bad stories about marijuana on the news, in newspapers, etc. If the government does legalize it everywhere there would not be any bad stories anymore because drug dealers would run out of business and the controlling amounts of marijuana that is store bought would be a better outcome. So people should be optimistic about it and not so pessimistic… I SAY LEGALIZE IT and so do MANY OTHER PEOPLE!! P.S. They SHOULD also look at and consider the MEDICAL TREATMENTS that can be associated with Marijuana. I have Chronic Depression and Marijuana helped me and still is helping me deal with my Depression. It should be used as an Antidepressant or a Pain Killer like for Arthritis of all kinds or Glaucoma And ALL types of Cancer (with some exceptions) LEGALLY… ALL of the states have pot smokers SO LEGALIZE IT! What’s the point of not legalizing it? People ARE going to keep on buying it anyway. So Many others and I ask why don’t they Legalize Marijuana? We ALL WANT TO KNOW WHY PEOPLE ARE SCARED OF LEGALIZING MARIJUANA… and every non Marijuana smokers Have Bad Views about it being legalized. It’s like a wise man once said (Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.) I Smoked Marijuana about 5 times a week and guess what I Gradutated with my Diploma and Honors… Also How many Deaths has Marijuana caused? ZERO and how many Deaths has Alcohol caused? A TON!!