When Will Marijuana Be Legal in Massachusetts?

A woman holds up a cannabis plant during a demonstration in support of the legalization of marijuana.
A woman holds up a cannabis plant during a demonstration in support of the legalization of marijuana. –REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Given Massachusetts voters’ overwhelming support for recent marijuana ballot initiatives — decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and legalizing medical marijuana in 2012 — the future of legal weed in the Bay State looks bright.

So when is Massachusetts going to legalize recreational marijuana? The short answer: Soon. Probably.

Now for the longer answer: A local group called Bay State Repeal is organizing and getting signatures for a ballot question in 2016 that, if passed, would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. A more powerful national group, Marijuana Policy Project, also organized a referundum committee, a first step in a process that is less than two years away.

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“We’ve filed a committee so we can begin the process of raising money,’’ Mason Tvert, director of communications as MPP said. So far, though, they are “in the infancy of what will ultimately be a big effort.’’

MPP has expertise in the area of marijuana ballot initiatives, as it led the efforts to legalize sales of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. Both of those created a template for other weed-friendly states hoping to cash in on new tax revenues.

There’s been some tensions between the national, more established MPP and the local Bay State Repeal (BSR). The latter group has said they feel shut out of the process of drafting the ballot initiative, but Tvert said that the two groups have been in touch in these early stages.

Despite those disagreements, precedent shows that Bay State Repeal will need a national group to join in the effort to successfully legalize marijuana. Having a major group behind it like MPP brings in the money, after all.

“There’s really no example of a local entity that gathers enough signatures, gets on ballot, and successfully defends it,’’ said Allen St. Pierre, executive director for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “[Local groups say] ‘Oh, we’re gonna raise the money locally!’ Really? It hasn’t happened yet.’’

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When these groups do ultimately draft a ballot initiative, it likely has the public support to pass.

“Massachusetts is absolutely one of the states in 2016 that are primed for reform,’’ St. Pierre said. The numbers back up that assertion:

• Both the 2008 and 2012 ballot initiatives on marijuana were approved by 63 percent of the voters.

• 53 percent of likely voters said they favor marijuana legalization in a Suffolk/Boston Herald poll in January 2014. Just 37 percent said they opposed it.

• Similarly, 48 percent of voters support legalization in a March poll by WBUR, while 41 percent opposed.

• The support is particularly strong among young people, as 60 percent of 18-to-29 year-olds said they support legalization. Just 31 percent of young people were opposed, WBUR found.

That advantage among Millennials leads us to 2016. That’s a presidential election year, which typically brings out a younger, more liberal voter demographic. Those young voters are the people who most support marijuana legalization, making 2016 the prime year that bans on marijuana go up on smoke.

Of course, passing a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana would not necessarily immediately create a market for the drug. Two years since medical marijuana was approved by voters, there were no dispensaries yet open in the state in October. The majority of available dispensary licenses have not been officially awarded by the state.

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