The Boston Freedom Rally: Time To Finish the Job and Fully Legalize It

I just returned last evening from the 26th annual Boston Freedom Rally on the historic Boston Common, a lovely event that has become more celebration than protest as Massachusetts moves ever closer to ending prohibition and fully legalizing marijuana.

The weather this year was fabulous, with bright blue autumn New England skies and comfortable fall temperatures, the crowds were huge, especially on Saturday (the largest crow I recall experiencing in my twenty-plus years attending), and the overwhelming feeling was one of confident optimism at this latest Freedom Rally, as Massachusetts looks forward to the opportunity to fully legalize marijuana by way of a voter initiative in November of 2016.

In fact, there are currently two competing initiatives starting to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2016, and both are great for consumers.

Two Competing Legalization Initiatives

One, an effort know as Bay State Repeal, is a project organized primarily by long-time in-state activists involved with MassCann/NORML, the NORML state affiliate in Massachusetts, led by attorney Steve Epstein from Georgetown, Mass. The other, The Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is a project organized and funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, although the standard MPP model has been tailored somewhat by the input of a handful of long-time, in-state legalization activists, including especially Richard Evans and Michael Cutler from Northampton, Mass.

The major difference between the two approaches involves the degree of regulation for the proposed legal marijuana industry.

Bay State Repeal

Indeed, the Bay State Repeal proposal has no limitation on the amount of marijuana one can cultivate or possess for personal use, and the only restriction is a prohibition on the sale to minors. It is a version of what is frequently called the “tomato model,” and calls for marijuana to be treated like other legal commodities. Licensed retail stores may sell any amount of marijuana to those 21 and above. Retail sales of marijuana would be subject to the state’s regular sales tax rate of 6.25 percent.

The Bay State Repeal proposal would also authorize marijuana farms, locally licensed marijuana farmers’ markets and marijuana products producers to be licensed by the state. It would also permit municipalities to license cannabis cafes or private clubs where marijuana could be sold and consumed, but not alcohol. And it includes provisions protecting lawful marijuana users from being deemed guilty of abuse or neglect of their minor children, without other evidence; and provisions attempting to protect employees from being fired for their off-job marijuana use.

Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol places strict limits on the amount of marijuana an individual may possess or cultivate. Adults could possess up to one ounce of marijuana out of the home, and up to 10 ounces in an enclosed, locked space within their home; and could cultivate up to six marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 per household.

The CRMLA proposal would license commercial growers, product manufacturing facilities and testing facilities, and would establish the Cannabis Control Commission to implement and enforce regulations controlling the legal marijuana industry. Retail marijuana sales would be subject to a special 3.7 percent excise tax, as well as the regular state sales tax of 6.25 percent. In addition, municipalities would be permitted to enact an additional 2 percent tax on retail sales within their jurisdiction. Localities under this proposal would have the authority to permit on-premise consumption at licensed venues, if approved by local initiative.

This proposal also seeks to protect marijuana-smoking parents from charges of child abuse or neglect, without specific evidence beyond their use of marijuana; but does not limit an employer’s right to fire an employee for off-the-job marijuana use.

Neither proposal would permit public smoking or change the current laws regarding driving while impaired from marijuana.

How Do We Choose?

Now that both proposals have been certified by the state Attorney General, supporters of each measure must collect 64,750 signatures from voters by November 2015 to qualify for the 2016 ballot. If one qualifies, and one does not, all proponents of legalization must get behind the one that’s on the ballot.

As a consumer, both proposals are attractive. Smokers in 46 states would dearly love to have either of these plans in place in their state. They both end the practice of treating marijuana smokers like criminals, both permit personal cultivation, and both establish a legal market where consumers can buy their marijuana.

Obviously, if both qualify for the ballot, it has the real potential to split the legalization vote and leave prohibition in place. So one could hope that the two sides will eventually get together behind one proposal or the other, based on what the polling demonstrates can realistically win. But that is far from certain, as early efforts to find common ground were unsuccessful.

So we need to let this process work itself out, and the result may come down to which of the two has the funding to collect the required signatures, and run a professional campaign. We should keep our powder dry until we see the results of this next phase.

Helpful State Supreme Court Ruling

One additional promising development occurred in Massachusetts over the last few days, leading up to the Freedom Rally. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, their highest court, handed down an important decision holding that because the possession of a small amount of marijuana in the state has, since 2008, been decriminalized, with the penalty reduced to a $100 civil fine, the police may no longer use suspicion that the occupant of an automobile may possess marijuana as legal justification to search the car or the occupants of the car, without a search warrant.

“Permitting police to stop a vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that an occupant possesses marijuana does not serve objectives” of the new law, Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the majority, explaining that allowing such stops “does not refocus police efforts on pursuing more serious crime,” a stated goal of changing the law in 2008.

Botsford’s opinion followed earlier Supreme Judicial Court rulings in 2011, and again in 2014, holding the odor of burned marijuana alone does not provide grounds for police to order occupants to exit a car, and that the smell of burned or unburned marijuana does not justify searching a vehicle without a warrant.

Which makes Massachusetts an even more inviting place to live, or to visit, if one is a marijuana smoker. Now let’s finish the job and enact full legalization by voter initiative in 2016. It’s our breakout year, and Massachusetts should be a big part of that.


This column originally appeared on


9 thoughts

  1. One initiative defaults to freedom of the individual.

    One defaults to “permission by the state”.

    Who owns you ? Seems to be the relevant question. I own myself….do you?

  2. The whole purpose of the Bill of Rights is to prevent a police state. Image the backlash of the end of Prohibition, for example the 5th Amendment says: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The 6th Amendment says: “to be confronted with the witnesses against him”. The 8th Amendment says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” All for a medicinal plant.

  3. I’m thinking the voters who are not members of the cannabis community are more likely to vote for the CRMLA because the state and local governments collect more in taxes that way, and are thus less likely to want to raise state sales tax or incomes tax. So Joe Non-Cannabis Voter is coming at this from the perspective that state and local government can tax the cannabis community and not him, and his roads, schools, and snow plow team and public workers, etc., can use cannabis money and maybe he can get a tax cut, no matter how small, or like in Colorado, cannabis money can go to school construction or whatever, and Joe Non-Cannabis Voter gets to keep more of his money.

    I’d like to see the polling.

    Why should somebody who doesn’t use cannabis vote for the tomato model if they’re not libertarian?

  4. I don’t know how the law and the constitution of Massachusetts works, but I don’t think there may be much of a vote-splitting effect if both initiatives make it to the ballot.

    In other states, similar voter initiatives do not necessarily present an exclusionary choice (which can lead to interesting outcomes if conflicting initiatives are passed). Most people who are enthusiastic about ending prohibition would probably vote for both initiatives. Vote-splitting may come from fence-sitters, but they were either going to vote for one or the other anyway . . . or not. Having a choice may actually bring in some votes if a possible yes voter saw one initiative as too broad, thus deciding to get in a yes vote for the “sensible” initiative–a good cop/bad cop, lesser of two evils thing, if you will. A prohibitionist wasn’t going to vote for either.

    How things shake out if both initiatives get passed is another thing, but I don’t know if splitting voter support is something much to worry about.

  5. “Obviously, if both qualify for the ballot, it has the real potential to split the legalization vote and leave prohibition in place. So one could hope that the two sides will eventually get together behind one proposal or the other, based on what the polling demonstrates can realistically win.”
    -Keith Stroup

    I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks Keith.

  6. A giant leap for mankind. Ignorance is not bliss. Cannabis is not what the feds would like us to believe it to be. Personal experience has enlightened the forlorned and disenfranchised. How long will the disrespect continue? How long will patients and their caregivers face prison for participation in a medicinal plant the feds hold the only patent for? When will the truth about the endocannabinoid system become part of medical schools curriculum?

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