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New England Is A Marijuana Legalization Hotbed In 2016


new england marijuanaBy Phillip Smith

No state east of the Mississippi has legalized marijuana, but that’s very likely to change this year, and New England will be leading the way. Two of the six New England states will likely let the voters make the call in November, while the others all have legalization bills pending.

So far, with the exception of Washington, DC, where voters elected to legalize the possession and cultivation, but not the sale of marijuana in 2014, all of the legalization action has been in the West. The four states that have legalized it so far—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—are all Western states.

More Western states will likely legalize it this year, including the nation’s most populous, California, as well as Arizona and Nevada. The Nevada Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Acthas already qualified for the November ballot, while the Arizona campaign behind that’s state’s Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act is well-advanced in signature gathering and appears poised to easily qualify for the ballot as well.

Meanwhile, California’s Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is late out of the gate, but well-financed and broadly supported. It, too, should be on the ballot in November.

Another possible legalization state this year is Michigan, where the campaign behind the Michigan Marihuana Legalization, Regulation and Economic Stimulus Act just last week announced that it has 240,000 raw signatures and is aiming for 300,000 by March 15. But it needs 252,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and with the rule of thumb for petition campaigns being that between 20% and 30% of raw signatures are likely to be invalidated, whether the Michigan initiative will qualify remains to be seen.

But it’s Yankee country that will see the most concentrated regional push toward marijuana legalization this year. Initiatives that make the ballot will go before New England populations that are showing majority support for legalization this year, and, while progress toward legalization though the legislative process can be achingly difficult, the region also appears poised to produce the first state to free the weed through the legislature, not the popular vote.

Here’s the rundown on New England legalization efforts this year. Chances are good that legalization will happen in two of them—the initiative states—and possibly in one or more of the other states:

Connecticut. Earlier this month, Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) introduced House Bill 5209, which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana. Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year that went nowhere. “I’m going to be pushing very hard,”Candelaria said. “I’m going to be engaging my leadership in conversation to at least allow a public hearing.” Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said the same day he could only support medical marijuana. “That’s as far as I’m comfortable going,” the governor said.

Maine. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has not yet officially qualified for the ballot, but is poised to. On February 1, the campaign turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures from its petition drive. It only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and should have a sufficient cushion to do so.  The most recent of Mainers’ attitudes toward marijuana legalization, from the spring of 2015, had support at 65%.

Massachusetts. The legalization initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already qualified for the ballot, but under Massachusetts law, the legislature must first take up the issue. If, as expected, it fails to adopt legalization, the campaign must then collect another 10,000 signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot. It should be able to do that easily, and if it gets on the ballot, it should win, although perhaps not as handily as Maine. There are no hot-off-the-press polls, but a 2014 poll had support at 53% and a Boston Globe poll from last year had a dead heat, with 48% in favor, 47% opposed. Numbers this tight means it’s not a done deal, but given expected high voter turnout this election year, the Bay State should be able to pull it off.

New Hampshire. The House actually passed a legalization bill in 2014, only to see it die in the Senate. This year, there are already three legalization bills filed, but two of them have already been deemed “inexpedient to legislate” in committee. The remaining legalization bill, House Bill 1610, is currently before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Even if the bill were to pass the House, it faces a tough battle in the Senate. In addition to killing legalization in 2014, the Senate has at least twice killed decriminalization bills that passed the House.

Rhode Island. Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) said he will file a marijuana legalization bill in the General Assembly last week, and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Cranston) will file companion legislation in the Senate. As of Saturday, the bills have not yet been posted on the legislative website, but they are definitely coming. This marks the fifth consecutive year legalization bills have been filed in Providence, and they have previously been stifled, but there are signs progress could be made this year. The Senate bill has 17 cosponsors (out of 38 senators), and the House bill has more than 30 cosponsors. Republican House Leader Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) supports it, and House Speaker Nick Mattiello (D-Cranston), who has long opposed legalization, is now becoming “more open-minded” as eyes tax revenues from pot in the already legal states.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State is the most likely to actually pass a legalization bill this year. Senate Bill 241, backed by Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), has already passed the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and is moving toward a Senate floor vote. But the committees have amended the bill to kill home cultivation and to reduce the legalized amount from an ounce to a half ounce. And if and when the bill gets out of the Senate, it still faces a tough battle in the House.

This could well be the year New England goes green. Winning in three states—Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont—would be a big victory; winning in more would be a very pleasant surprise. Not winning in any of them would be a huge setback for the marijuana reform movement, but at this point, that looks extremely unlikely.

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Johnny Green


  1. saynotohypocrisy on

    There is one possible trick up the voters’ sleeve in NY. Every 20 years the voters get asked if they want to hold a constitutional convention. It happens again in 2017. If voters say yes, legalizers could organize around the elections to the convention, possibly with the theme that the issue should be put to the voters, since the politicians are so thoroughly and persistently ignoring their wishes.

  2. He can’t and he won’t because he’s a pawn.

    But you’re right we should elect someone else.

  3. Kudos to those two entities to join forces. This country is driven by numbers —- whether they have a dollar sign in front of them or not.
    Seeing that the pro-legalization effort can never come close to pumping the money toward the cause like Big Business (booze, tobacco, pharma, prison profit centers, etc.) to fight legalization, the numbers employed have to be voting numbers —- basically, the ol’ “Power of the People” stance.
    But but, but Big Brother does NOT like power of the people —- it staunchly embraces Power OVER the People —- and therein lies the PROBLEM.

  4. Remove Cuomo and put someone in there that is pro-legalization and you will see things change much quicker in NYS.
    IF Cuomo wanted to speed this legalization train up in NYS, trust me — he CAN — but he WON’T — because, well, he’s the KING.

  5. Oliver Steinberg on

    Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet or much of anything published by a “task force.” I’m not a lexicographer, but I doubt very much that this alleged origin of the expression “rule of thumb” is anything but a myth. For one thing, the supposed “origin” bears no relationship to the actual meaning of the phrase, which is usually a sign that the imagined derivation is unsupported by scholarly research or factual evidence. People often are eager to believe that for which there is no basis; it reinforces pre-existing beliefs and/or saves the trouble of thinking. I may be wrong . . . but folk etymologies usually don’t stand up to close scrutiny, and this one is a doozy. It doesn’t make sense, even in the context of how to obtain a weapon with which to beat someone. And I don’t minimize domestic violence–I had a letter published in St. Paul Pioneer Press denouncing popular football player Adrian Peterson, & also those who tried to justify his whipping of his child with a tree branch, for claiming such viciousness was part of African-American cultural heritage.

  6. Cuomo isn’t King. He’s a pawn like all politicians. He’s going along with the legislature who are also pawns appeasing their masters and nobody is answerable to the people.

    But 2016 will be our year and even the obstructionist NY legislators will not be able to stem the tidal wave!

    Legalization is coming to NY!!!

  7. The “rule of thumb” should be applied to a large amount of the politicians that we ENTRUST in representing our feelings and positions on issues.
    IF that truly is the premise of a democracy, then why is not the MAJORITY getting what they feel is fair and just —- their voice being heard and ACTED upon ?

  8. And that’s cool too. It shows that the consensus and MAJORITY of the population feels that users and cultivators of their own should be left alone.
    ALL of our laws should be based on one’s actions as to whether those actions impinge, impede, impose, threaten or victimize another human being or an animal from living their life safely and peacefully. If the act does not meet any of these criteria, it should NOT be a crime. You rob someone, you threaten someone with a weapon, you slap someone across the face, you kick your dog, etc. —- those are crimes —- NOT someone who is cultivating and harvesting a plant in their home or on their property.
    Think about it —– why in the world should someone be at risk of going to prison for cultivating and using a plant in their own home.
    It really is not that complicated a thought. Our illustrious government is the one who always manages (or plans) to fuk up a soup sandwich —- not its citizens; who only want to enjoy life to its fullest.
    For those who disagree, what is TRUELY wrong with the above ?
    Mired in NYS

  9. We in NYS know that we’ll be left in the proverbial dust —- nothing will progressively happen in New York State until King Cuomo is deposed.
    Kudos to the legislators of these “other” Northeastern states for pushing for legislation and kudos to the states that have the decency and respect for the VOTER by allowing them to DECIDE.
    Whatever the scenario, whether it be through legislative action or by a ballot initiative, I commend all of the past and future states that are progressive enough to fight through EIGHTY YEARS OF LIES AND DECEIT on the American (and global) community.
    As I always state; THE JIG IS UP, BIG BROTHER…

  10. Legalize Maine had a merger.

    To quote the Press Herald (October 26, 2015):

    The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, an effort backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, announced Monday that it will stop collecting signatures to support the initiative it filed in March that would set up a system to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana to adults. The group will keep its name but will now spearhead the campaign in support of a similar initiative filed in February by Legalize Maine, which billed itself as a homegrown group supported by people in the state’s agriculture and medical marijuana industries. The development ends the fragmentation among supporters of legalization that made the movement vulnerable, and it also eliminates the possibility that voters would pass two legalization questions, which would have forced the legalization language into the hands of the Legislature.

    …Paul McCarrier, president of Legalize Maine, said in a prepared statement that the joining of the campaigns was “a major milestone in the path to ending marijuana prohibition in Maine.”

    “Either of these campaigns could be successful on their own, but together we can put our best feet forward in 2016,” he said. “Both campaigns have done a great job of educating voters, organizing volunteers and raising funds, and now we can ramp up those efforts even more.”

  11. Even though marijuana is illegal in NH no one really gives a shit; it is treated as if it is decriminalized even though it is obviously not.

  12. Disappointing we have to wait till the end of the year for any of these bills/ballot measures. But I am hopeful at least 1 or 2 of the New England states will legalize it.

  13. I’m not so sure Maine’s “regulate cannabis like alcohol” legislation is going to pass so easily and I’m personally skeptical considering it is supposedly being regulated like agriculture and not “alcohol”…….. Maine’s medical program is considered the most friendly in the country and the cold air makes the nostrils more sensitive when they aren’t frozen. I wish to know what happened to Legalize Maine because something stinks and I don’t think its bear shit this time of year.

  14. Lawrence Goodwin on

    I cringe every time I read the words “rule of thumb” (paragraph 5 above, last sentence). According to the New York State Domestic Violence Task Force, that expression has its origins in colonial times when a man could literally walk up to a tree, strip off a long piece of bark roughly as wide as his thumb, and proceed to beat his lady with the switch. Such mean expressions and behavior toward America’s ladies should’ve been rooted out right along with political control by the British monarchy.

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