Can’t We All Just Get a Bong? Part 1 – Can Massachusetts Legalizers Learn from Maine?
There is a fascinating development in the world of marijuana legalization.
At first, our struggle was over whether or not marijuana should be legalized. Now it is a question of how it should be legalized or which legalization shall prevail.
In four states, that question is boiling down to a battle between progressive local grassroots activists and moderate nationally-funded reformers. Massachusetts and Arizona have two groups fighting to make the 2016 ballot. Michigan has three and there are at least four groups working to legalize California in the next election.
Today we begin in New England, where Maine may present the most reasonable path forward for these other states.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the well-funded national legalization organization based in Washington, DC, has branded its initiatives for 2016 as “the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” (CRMLA). The message that “marijuana is safer than alcohol” was used to great success in legalizing marijuana in Colorado, so much so that the architect of that “safer” messaging, Mason Tvert, was elevated to Communications Director for MPP.
In Maine, the big news is that the two competing marijuana legalization campaigns have now gotten behind just one campaign. Even bigger news is that it was MPP that folded their CRMLA tent to get behind the grassroots Legalize Maine campaign. The grassroots campaigns in every state propose marijuana legalization with less restriction than what MPP proposes in their initiatives.
In Massachusetts, however, MPP’s CRMLA continues the battle. This week, Massachusetts CRMLA’s Will Luzier announced the campaign had already gathered over 100,000 signatures toward the goal of almost 65,000 validated signatures needed to make the ballot. CRMLA in Massachusetts proposes a decent legalization plan: personal possession an ounce, up to a dozen plants per household with ten ounces of harvest allowed at home.
The grassroots effort in Massachusetts is Bay State Repeal (BSR), backed by MassCann/NORML. Personal possession and cultivation would be allowed with virtually no limit but to prove what you have is truly “personal”. BSR also protects rights to employment, child custody, and organ transplants for adult marijuana consumers.
Could Massachusetts follow in Maine’s footsteps and unite behind one initiative? I don’t think they will, until only one of them makes the ballot, most likely CRMLA. Maine’s two initiatives were not significantly dissimilar, so MPP dropping CRMLA is potentially just a cost-savings measure. Why put in time and resources into legalizing Maine if there’s another viable campaign with similar language to split the bill with?
But in Massachusetts, BSR’s language is significantly different than CRMLA. Unlimited personal marijuana is too easy to attack in a political ad and may be too expansive to expect voters to support. Why would MPP drop what would be a sure win in Massachusetts for a risky bet on greater freedom?
On the other side, the activists behind BSR have a long track record of successfully passing local advisory questions on legalization that always show huge levels of support for reform. Consecutive victories in the 60-percent range for decriminalization and medical marijuana plus favorable rulings from the Supreme Judicial Court leave grassroots activists questioning why MPP would move so cautiously in Massachusetts.
But the Massachusetts activists are pragmatic enough that should CRMLA make the ballot and BSR fail, they will support the more moderate attempt to end marijuana prohibition. Then they’ll be right back in the thick of activism to expand their new marijuana freedoms.