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.

 


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