This November, state-level ballot measures and initiatives around the country proved as interesting and complicated as national elections. I suspect the Massachusetts ballot measure with the most ramifications for changing our legal landscape was Question 4, regarding the legalization of recreational cannabis. Massachusetts voters approved the measure and our Commonwealth will join several states that have legalized recreational use.

The ballot question was simply the first step, of course. A host of legal and public policy questions remain to be worked out. How will legalization sit alongside federal law and the new Administration in Washington? What will the state regulations look like? How will municipalities respond? Will communities of color that have been negatively affected by marijuana criminalization benefit from the legalization?

Personally, I think that legalization is a step in the right direction, even though I have seen the negative and devastating effects that narcotics have had on all communities, including communities of color. As a practical matter, wholesale criminalization of marijuana has been a public policy failure and the failure to distinguish between clearly dangerous narcotics such as heroin and marijuana has been a public health failure. Legalization at the state level permits the kind of careful public policy experimentation contemplated by our Constitution's federal structure, which imagines States, as Justice Brandeis observed, to be "laboratories" for new approaches to law and social organization.

The ballot measures can be read on the Secretary of the Commonwealth's website here.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, starting on July 1, 2015, employees of businesses with eleven or more employees are eligible to start earning paid sick leave. Businesses with fewer than eleven employees may earn unpaid sick leave. For more information, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office has provided a useful website.

The Massachusetts Attorney General is presently in the process of promulgating regulations for the law's implementation. The proposed regulations are available here in PDF form.

As a practical business matter, employers continue to be a central focus for public policies and private sector initiatives intended to improve the health of individuals and communities. Employers may well want to carefully consider what actually works for keeping employees healthy. Currently, what doesn't appear to work very well, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's research, are many of the "wellness programs" that have become popular among corporate employers over the last decade. 

The reality might well be that the workplace is not the ideal setting for health-care related social policies, especially when driven by trends and hype. The bottom line for both money and health, might be that businesses may want to consider adopting a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to figuring out how to contain health care costs and how to empower workers to take better care of themselves.

We are what we eat


After eating some very delicious Christmas and New Years meals with family and friends, I've realized that few personal freedoms are as close to our hearts and daily lives as being able to eat what we choose. When governments step in to regulate what we eat on grounds other than public health and safety, there should be careful scrutiny of such rules. In a small, but important case in federal district court in California, the state's ban against foie gras -- based on legitimate concerns about animal cruelty in its production -- was overturned on the grounds of federal regulatory preemption. In other words, the comprehensive nature of the federal regulations trumped the state's attempt to impose its own wholesale ban on a product. Here's the New York Times article

The lesson goes beyond foie gras and beyond California. Businesses of all sizes would be well served by being willing to carefully scrutinize state and municipal regulations and licensing practices for overreach and excessive micromanagement of legitimate activities. Governments do not have unfettered or unlimited regulatory authority. 

Happy New Year!
Cats are not an appropriate source of foie gras.