The Massachusetts Supreme Court Just OK’d a Legalization Measure — And Improved Its Chances

Published on July 6, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Massachusetts' highest court on Wednesday cleared the way for a November ballot question on legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana, and ordered changes in the wording of the question's title and the brief statement that explains the measure to voters.

The justices, in a unanimous and surprisingly even-handed opinion, said the current title (“Marijuana Legalization”) was “unfair and clearly misleading.” The court ordered the title changed to "Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana." Other wording in the voters guide will also be changed, but the measure will remain, largely intact, on the ballot in November. 

Opponents of the ballot measure hoped to derail legalization in the Bay State with their legal challenge, but the court’s decision should actually boost the initiative’s chances in November. In previous elections in other states, voters have been wary of simply “legalizing” cannabis, but have been reassured by the notion of “legalizing, regulating, and taxing” the substance. 

 Massachusetts Legalization Measure is a Go

The case actually involved challenges to the ballot measure from both proponents and opponents of legalization. 

Opponents charged that the ballot language was misleading because it didn’t mention concentrates or cannabis-infused edibles. They wanted the entire measure stricken from the ballot. 

Proponents said the title assigned to the measure by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who has come out publicly against legalization, tilted against the measure because it indicated that all legal strictures surrounding marijuana would be dropped. In fact, cannabis would be strictly regulated, taxed, and legal only for adults 21 and older. 

 Here’s Why Cannabis Legalization Doesn’t Lead to Higher Teen Use Rates

In its decision today, the state Supreme Court agreed with legalization proponents and ordered the ballot title amended to include references to regulation and taxation. The court also agreed with opponents, but to a lesser extent. The justices declared that most voters have more awareness and information about cannabis than opponents give them credit for, and decided that the ballot measure could go forward with the inclusion of a reference to “products containing marijuana concentrate (including edible products).” 

The measure, sponsored by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, would allow people 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis for recreational use and impose a 3.75 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales, on top of the state's 6.25 percent sales tax. A state cannabis commission would be created to regulate the drug.

"The court issued a victory for the voters of Massachusetts today, assuring that their voices will be heard on the issue of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, an approach that is working in Colorado and other states and will work in Massachusetts," said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the legalization campaign. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Massachusetts D.A.s Launch Hail Mary to Stop Legalization. Will It Work?

Header photo by David Poe

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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