On election day, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to legalize to sale and use of recreational marijuana to adults. And of course, campaigns have been active on both sides of the issue.

Of course, the ballot question is about making it legal to smoke a joint in your own home. But it’s also about two other big things: the commercialization and regulation of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Behind just the question people will see in that ballot box is a 25-page document that lays out a lot of details about what would happen if this passes. You can read that full petition here. Here’s what you need to know about the ballot initiative and some of the issues being debated:


The ballot petition would make it legal to possess one ounce or less of marijuana, and not more than 5 grams of that in the highly potent concentrate form. The fine for violating that would be up to $100.

People can also grow six plants at home for personal use, with not more than 12 plants allowed in one home. The fine for violating the growing law could be up to $300.

Public consumption of marijuana would still be illegal.


There’s marijuana industry that’s dying to get into Massachusetts. And that’s either a good or bad thing, depending on what side of this debate you’re on.  Supporters talk up jobs.

“We’ll see new jobs in logistics, security, transportation, software, packaging, really any aspect where people are eager to learn,” said Shaleen Title, who owns a staffing firm focused on the marijuana industry.

But just where many of those jobs will be has some people here in Massachusetts worried. Just in Denver, there are about 250 dispensaries. Governor Charlie Baker worries here in Massachusetts, we’re going to be inundated.

“This ballot question basically says these are retail shops, they can locate anywhere they want,” Baker said. “And the only way you cannot be part of that is if you actually put it up to a vote in your community and vote it out.”


Those dispensaries sell way more than just joints. Marijuana concentrates are for sale in Colorado that users drop into a pipe to smoke a much stronger dose of THC.  There’s also a huge range of products: cans of soda, lip balm, pasta sauce, even stuff you put in a bath – all infused with marijuana. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who’s also against legalization, is especially worried about things like chocolates and gummies.

“It would be over the counter, and they look like candy,” he said. “And they’re not targeting 21 year olders, they’re targeting towards 13 and 14 year olders, their packaging. Just like the cigarette manufacturers did in the 50s and 60s by making it cool to smoke.”

In addition to barring sales to anyone under 21, the Massachusetts ballot question does require child safe packaging to reduce the risk of infused products getting into really young hands.


The ballot petition would create a Cannabis Control Commission appointed by the state treasurer that would make up regulations. It also would establish a 15-member advisory board, appointed by the governor, which would include experts in the industry, public health, law enforcement and some others.  

And if ballot question passes, the legislature could go in after the fact and pass its own laws about what’s allowed and what’s not.


The ballot measure includes a 3.75 percent state tax, which would go towards covering the expense of regulating the new industry. Any money left over would go to the state’s general fund. Cities and towns would have the option of adding their own tax of up to two percent of the sales price. That’s all on top of the regular sales tax.


In addition to economic benefits and just the freedom of choice to use pot, some advocates say legalization would help reduce a disparity in marijuana enforcement.

An ACLU report says black people make up nearly a quarter of all possession arrests in Massachusetts and 41 percent of sales arrests, even though they are just 8 percent of the state’s population. 

“The racial disparities that continue to persist even after decriminalization are a problem,” said Rahsaan Hall is the director of the Racial Justice Program for the state ACLU. “And that’s why it’s important that we talk about legalization, because communities of color can no longer afford to bear the brunt of policing practices that disproportionately target them for the use and sale of marijuana.”


Supporters of the ballot initiative argue that legalization would eliminate the demand for a black market, and bring marijuana sales out in to the open, where the content of products can be carefully regulated.

But opponents say a black market persists in states like Colorado for two reasons. First of all, since legal marijuana is heavily taxed, it’s possible to undercut that market by growing it – even legally – and selling it outside of dispensaries. Secondly, because marijuana is not legal in most other states, there’s a market for it crossing borders.  Law enforcement officials in Colorado say they’ve even seen buyers come from other countries.


One thing the ballot question doesn’t really get into in any detail is driving.

“And the reason that it’s not addressed, is because under the Massachusetts constitution, you’re limited to a single subject,” said Adam Fein who's one of the drafters of the ballot question. “But it does make it very, very clear that driving under the influence is still illegal and will remain illegal under Massachusetts law with this initiative.”

The main opposition group, The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, put out an ad featuring Reisa Clardy, the wife of state trooper Thomas Clardy who was killed when a medical marijuana patient swerved across the Mass Pike and struck his cruiser.

“There’s going to be more accidents, there’s going to be more fatalities, you’re going to have families that are going to be without their loved ones because we’re putting people at risk,” she says in the ad. “If it can happen to my family, it can happen to anybody’s.”

The group Yes on 4 released a statement in response, saying "no studies from any marijuana-legal state showing increases in marijuana-impaired crashes or fatalities.  In fact, in Colorado OUI marijuana arrests went down in 2015 compared to 2014 despite increased vigilance.”

One serious problem is there’s no good way for police to field test for marijuana impairment. In Colorado, if police suspect a driver is under the influence of marijuana, they can take them back to the police station and give them blood test. If a driver refuses, their license can be taken away for a period of time. But is unlike alcohol, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for days after they’re actually impaired. Massachusetts police are not permitted to do blood tests. A spokesman for the state police says some troopers are trained as “drug recognition experts,” and are called in to identify impaired drivers based on looking at their eyes, as well as other tests.

“One of the good things about the initiative process is that this brings this issue to the fore,” said Adam Fein. “This has been an issue that Massachusetts probably should have dealt with years and years ago, but now we’re having the discussion, so I think that’s a good thing.”


Opponents of legalization say increased marijuana use could lead people down a path towards using more dangerous drugs.

On the other side, pot advocates say if people could manage pain with marijuana, it would cut down on opioid prescriptions, leading to a reduction in addictions that can lead to heroin use.


Supporters and opponents of the marijuana measure have raised about 7 million dollars. Where's that money coming from?

On the “NO” side, the biggest donor is casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave a million dollars towards defeating the measure. Other donors include beer distributors and wine & spirit wholesalers in Massachusetts.

On the “YES” side, more than $5 million, the vast majority of money raised, has come from New Approach PAC, a Washington, DC-based PAC that’s supporting reform of marijuana laws.