~

 "We will push for legislation on Beacon Hill, but that won't stop us from also pursuing a ballot initiative in 2016," said Richard M. Evans, a Northampton lawyer and chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Massachusetts, a statewide referendum committee.

Legalization for recreational use would mean an adult over the age of 21 could go into a licensed retail outlet, purchase a personal amount of marijuana, pay a tax on that purchase, and be assured of the product's potency, quality, and origin, said Evans.

"A few years ago, the mere mention of marijuana was regarded as the third rail on Beacon Hill," said Evans in a recent coffee shop interview. "Now, we have a special Senate committee."

The Special Senate Committee on Marijuana, named by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg on Jan. 22, will examine the state's rocky medical marijuana rollout, look at the legalization experience in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, and make recommendations regarding legislation. The committee is chaired by Sen. Jason Lewis of Winchester.

The committee will take a "deep interdisciplinary dive" into the marijuana question, Rosenberg told Boston Herald Radio last month. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who has not taken a personal stand on legalization, said the Senate should be involved in the debate, considering the likelihood of a 2016 ballot initiative. The 2012 medical marijuana question was "badly written" by a small group of advocates who "don't have to take into consideration a lot of other peoples' ideas and opinions," Rosenberg said.

Governor Charlie Baker opposes legalizing marijuana, but more recently said he welcomes the investigation in the Senate, according to the Herald.

Evans told MassLive / The Republican that he hopes a ballot question won't be necessary, and that the Legislature will advance a well-crafted and thoughtful bill. Good legislation would eliminate the black market, protect public health and safety, and discourage abuse among teens and young people, he said.

A bill to tax and regulate marijuana has already been introduced in the House by David Rogers (D-Belmont) and in the Senate by Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), said Evans. The bill would create a five-member Marijuana Commission to issue licenses for cultivation, processing, distribution, and retail operations.

The proposed bill would cover labeling and packaging, discourage procurement and use by those under the age of 21, and allow cities and towns the local option to ban marijuana facilities. Public smoking would fall under the state's smoke-free workplace law, could be prohibited by landlords, and could also be regulated on the local level.

In a new twist, the legislation would also allow for the creation of "marijuana cafes" where adults could imbibe while also enjoying food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Evans said it's not appropriate for young people to be smoking marijuana, and noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently reaffirmed its opposition to legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use.

"We want parents to be able to have that discussion about marijuana with their teenagers in the kitchen, and not in the station house," said Evans.

About 10 to 12 percent of the adult population smokes pot, said Evans. Yet the 2008 and 2012 ballot measures to decriminalize possession and allow for medical marijuana passed with around 65 percent of the vote.

That's because Massachusetts voters are tolerant of adults who smoke responsibly, and see no benefit to criminalizing their neighbors, he said.

Voters are likely to approve legalization in 2016 given the chance, said Evans, as long as the news from Colorado remains positive and evidence from the medical community continues to show no benefit to criminalization.

Evans said for the first time in history, he's hopeful that a robust discussion about marijuana will take place on Beacon Hill.

"I've reached out to Senators Rosenberg and Lewis, and we're encouraging the legislature to pass a good bill. If they don't, it's back to the voters in November 2016."

Mary Serreze ~ MassLive ~ February 2, 2015

~

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