With an August 5 deadline approaching for proposals on initiatives to appear on the statewide ballot in November 2016, two separate factions are now finalizing plans to run competing campaigns to legalize cannabis in Massachusetts.
On one side, there is the local outfit Bay State Repeal, which is banking on a grassroots uprising with volunteers collecting the bulk of signatures. Theirs is likely a fool’s errand unless some new substantial contributions come through soon. Each measure will need 60,000-plus signatures in the first round of gathering, which is a daunting task without the proper bank.
On the other hand, there is the Washington, DC-headquartered Marijuana Policy Project. MPP has a national donor base, as well as a proven track record of winning ballot initiatives nationally and in the Bay State (see: decriminalization in 2008). This time around, they plan to run a million dollar campaign aiming for Mass to regulate cannabis like alcohol.
Of course, there’s still a chance for the under-funded Bay State Repeal. It all depends on the language of the MPP initiative, as a low plant count or criminal penalties that are too harsh for those caught growing outside of the system could lead many to back Bay State Repeal, whose leadership calls the MPP’s tax and regulate model “prohibition lite.”
From what I’ve seen, with specific language so far unknown, many local activists and advocates are thus far refusing to fund either initiative. Bay State Repeal recently publicly released a second draft of their plans online, while MPP has yet to disclose any critical details at all. According to the latter’s New England Policy Director Matt Simon, MPP is “guided by a local drafting committee of over a dozen that has yet to decide how this will play out. We’ve heard from all the sides, but it’s going to be interesting … We do have two members of Bay State Repeal on our drafting committee.“
Michael Latulippe, president of the Cannabis Society of Massachusetts, is among those who are currently withholding an endorsement. At the same time, he says he is concerned that MPP has not been transparent enough, especially in comparison with Bay State Repeal.
Latullipe is currently holding domains for reformma.com, regulatemass.com, and regulatema.com —all or any of which he hopes to use to help raise funds for, or to gift to one of the initiatives. So far, the Cannabis Society pres is undecided on which campaign will get to benefit from the already-active ReformMA portal, but he says language will be the deciding factor.
“We believe the people of Massachusetts deserve some role in creating legislation that is meant to serve them,” Latullipe says. “ReformMA currently owns regulatemass.com, which was requested recently by the Marijuana Policy Project to use for their campaign. Because of the importance of the many issues brought forth by the cannabis community in regards to regulating marijuana in Massachusetts, ReformMA will continue to hold onto the domains until we see the final language presented by both MPP and Bay State Repeal.”
Cannabis Society Secretary Jeremiah MacKinnon adds, “While Bay State Repeal has been very forthcoming with their initiative language to the public, the MPP has yet to release any information on their initiative to allow for public discussion, debate, and amendment. We hope all stakeholders and residents will have a chance to view and discuss the language before it is filed on August 5 with the Attorney General.”
In response, Jim Borghesani of MPP says, “We have a very inclusive drafting committee, including two BSR members working on the petition, and we’re following the process we set out to follow. The language will be publicly available soon. I guess folks will have to judge for themselves about the “prohibition lite” moniker, but we think a regulated and controlled market is the most realistic and effective alternative to prohibition, and we think it will present a strong argument to [Mass] voters in 2016. The bottom line: We think [Mass] voters will be receptive in 2016 to a new approach—namely, a regulated and controlled market—to scrap a longtime policy that has failed at every level.”
Then there is MassCann/NORML, the wildcard. With a new food contract for their annual and now two-day Boston Freedom Rally, the group could make a contribution of $10,000 or more to the campaign of one of the initiatives. MassCann President Bill Flynn says, “It’s going to be up to our members, they may choose to endorse both or one, and then there’s the money issue. MassCann could make a contribution to one of the campaigns, but we won’t know until the language is released, and then we’ll take it to our members to decide.”
One way or the other, even if it’s “prohibition lite,” that sounds better than the prohibition that we have right now.