Voters in 47 Massachusetts towns and cities, including 20 of the Bay State's 170 House districts, will vote on ballot initiatives instructing lawmakers to vote to decriminalize the possession of marijuana, to allow medical marijuana patients to use and grow their own, and to allow the production of industrial hemp. Nineteen districts will vote on marijuana decrim, one on medical marijuana and one on hemp. (One district, the 14th in Worcester, will vote on both decrim and medical marijuana.)
The campaign, largely organized by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (http://www.masscann.org), the Massachusetts NORML affiliate and sponsor of next weekend's annual Freedom Rally at Boston Commons, builds on a similar effort in the 2000 elections, when 18 cities and towns passed like-minded measures by a two-to-one margin. In an interview with the mid-state Sentinel & Enterprise, MassCann founder Steve Epstein argued that cash-strapped Massachusetts could immediately save "millions of tax dollars in police overtime, public defenders and probation," by making simple marijuana possession a civil, not criminal offense.
Epstein also cited gains in public safety to be had from freeing police from the burden of arresting marijuana users, but he also said it was a moral issue. Marijuana prohibition "persecutes otherwise law-abiding citizens and the ill, terrorizing people with the threat of arrest when they are harming no one or trying to alleviate life-threatening medical conditions or the effects of their other therapies," Epstein said.
The precise question facing voters in 16 districts (in Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk, and Worcester) is: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a civil violation, subject to a maximum fine of $100 and not subject to any criminal penalties?" In three other districts, all in Essex, the question contains an additional clause calling on police to hold marijuana offenders under 18 until they are released to a parent or guardian or by a judge's order.
MassCann targeted districts where it has a volunteer base or where elected representatives have opposed marijuana decriminalization bills. "It's important to let them know that their people by a good margin support ending the arrest of adults in possession of marijuana," Epstein said.
Voters in the Worcester 14th District will be asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote for legislation that would allow patients with certain diseases, who have a written doctor's recommendation, to possess and grow small amounts of Cannabis marijuana for their personal use until such time that the federal government puts into effect a distribution system for these patients?"
And voters in the Franklin 2nd District (Athol, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Orange and Warwick) will be asked: "Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that would allow licensed farmers in Massachusetts to grow Cannabis hemp a crop with a 1 percent or less, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana for legitimate agricultural and industrial purposes?"
Of related drug policy interest, voters in the Norfolk 15th District will be asked to vote on a resolution calling upon the Congress and the president to withdraw all US troops from Colombia and to use the $1 billion directed to the Colombian military within the US for urgent health care needs.