Voters fired up on both sides of marijuana debate

SEEKONK, Mass. (WPRI) — When Massachusetts voters head to the polls in November they’ll decide on four ballot measures, the last of which has created a divide among residents.

In 2008, Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Four years later, the state legalized medical marijuana. Now, residents will decide if they want Massachusetts to join several other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

A poll released Wednesday by WBUR in Boston revealed many residents are on board with the idea while those opposed to it are doing everything they can to make sure it doesn’t pass.

“We sponsored the legislation in order to end the criminal domination of the marijuana market and place it with a taxed and regulated system of commerce,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesperson for the Yes on 4 campaign.

The measure would allow anyone 21 or older to purchase and consume marijuana. It would also impose a surtax of 3.75 percent on the drug.

“The product won’t be available in variety stores or any other stores,” Borghesani added. “It has to be a dedicated store to selling marijuana and marijuana products.”

The group launched a television ad on Tuesday featuring a local doctor, who says passing the measure would help medical marijuana patients. Story continues below video.

The new WBUR poll shows that 55 percent of voters are on board with the legislation, up from 50 percent in its September poll. Local representatives are asking residents to reconsider.

“It would just create too many problems with the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, who’s among more than 120 state politicians who oppose the bill. He said he believes people aren’t looking at the bigger picture.

“The tax and the administrating of it will not be covered and you’ll still have the underground,” he said. “In fact, it will probably increase the underground market for growing it.”

Howitt said his biggest concern is consumer safety and the safety of young people who could get their hands on it.

On Tuesday, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley met with other faith leaders to discuss ways to defeat the measure, saying it could cause serious harm to all aspects of everyday life.

The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts also released a television spot this week, highlighting the potential impacts of legalizing marijuana.

If voters do say yes to 4, Massachusetts will join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington State, and Washington, D.C. in legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana.