In the marijuana reform movement, there are various splits and ideological factions. A diverse mix of all political types, we’re kind of well-known for infighting. Of all the rifts between us, though, these days there’s none bigger than the divide between repealers and legalizers.
Put simply: Those who favor the repeal of marijuana laws (as in those rules would be replaced by virtually nothing) make the case that prohibition and the cannabis black market–in all its various forms–are the true harm. They cite that for most adults, cannabis is a beneficial herb and food that should not be taxed or regulated.
On the other end of the spectrum, tax and regulation legalizers argue that safety and taxation could alleviate concerns that permeate some institutional structures when it comes to this new freedom and industry. As the commonwealth looks at the possibility of voting on such conditions in 2016, two places to look for developments on similar fronts would be Colorado and Washington, where the taxation of cannabis is underway.
As for action around here, in one camp, the Marijuana Policy Project–a national reform organization based in Washington, D.C. that led and funded the 2008 Massachusetts ballot initiative for decriminalization–is following its historic Colorado tax and regulation win with eyes on Massachusetts, where organizers are already making plans for a big push over the next two years. In a much different approach, the local organization Bay State Repeal is attempting to make the case that they can do better. To test alternative waters, they’re staging a campaign to poll voters on legalization language through nonbinding questions that will appear on a handful of ballots around the state when Massachusetts picks a new governor in November. Basically, voters will be asked if marijuana should be “regulate[d] and tax[ed] like alcohol,” or “regulate[d] like herbs” so long as vendors are prevented from selling or providing pot to children.
With so much happening, Blunt Truth sent over a few questions to Bill Downing of Bay State Repeal–a longtime activist, sometimes Dig contributor, and current controversial commonwealth caregiver–to get a sense of the organization’s immediate and long game goals.
What questions are Bay State Repeal hoping to run?
Our hope is to pose slightly varying versions of adult regulation in representative districts that voted in similar ways on cannabis ballot initiatives in 2008 [decriminalization] and in 2012 [medicinal cannabis]. Those variations are designed to meter public response to similar but strategically different questions. Just as a for instance, one of a pair of districts may be asked about adult regulation with an age of majority at 21 while the other of that pair may be asked about an 18-year-old majority. By comparing the voter responses in two districts that should otherwise vote very similarly, we can better meter probable voter response at the voting booth in November 2016 when adult regulation will be on ballots statewide.
How can people help?
Bay State Repeal is partnering with MassCann/NORML, the Drug Policy Foundation of Massachusetts, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the UMASS-Amherst Cannabis Reform Coalition, the NORML Women’s Alliance, and others to organize teams of signature gatherers. For each [House] district we need about 300 valid signatures, which means gathering about 500 raw signatures. Gathering 500 signatures is a daunting task, but a task we have won many times now. In fact, we have run almost 50 [nonbinding ballot questions] in Massachusetts and we have never lost. Some very skilled activists have gathered over 100 signatures in one day. Getting signatures on a petition takes a little training, but if you have an outgoing personality, you will quickly realize the appreciation of our large volume of supporters. [More info in how to get involved at masscann.org.
How do you think the Mass Repeal-proposed initiative would differ from what passed in Colorado?
First of all, we hope for legislation that is far, far simpler in both language and implementation. On the retail level cannabis is to be treated as an agricultural commodity with one important distinction–that it not be sold to children. Otherwise, the laws we have in place governing agricultural commodities already do just what we need done for cannabis as well–being properly weighed, packaged and stored as any other agricultural product would. All of these things are covered by laws we have already. Simpler means we don’t need a lot of things Washington and Colorado have cluttering their laws … One important thing we don’t need that those other states now have is a new giant, powerful, wealthy, state cannabis bureaucracy. Taxation of cannabis by a wealthy new state bureaucracy will mean the continuation of the destructive and amoral black market. A Herald study concluded that about 40 percent of cigarettes sold in Boston are black market cigarettes. Taxation places burdens on cannabis producers and consumers and the only justification is the same old reefer madness we’ve been trying to throw-off.
Lastly, the limit on the number of plants (6) each adult can grow in Colorado is unrealistic. Why should we limit home gardening at all?
It is my fervent hope the language of the cannabis legalization ballot question in 2016 will have been developed by Bay State Repeal. Even if it has been written by another ballot committee, hopefully with Bay State Repeal’s participation, we still have great expectations for superior initiative language in 2016.