Massachusetts residents may get the final say on medical marijuana after lawmakers failed to reach a consensus on the issue Tuesday.
Supporters of medical cannabis were hoping elected officials would pass a measure to legalize the drug on their own, averting the need to get the issue on the ballot.
But after three hours of debate at a hearing yesterday that included testimony from MMJ advocates and opponents, the state Legislature remained conflicted on medical marijuana. Concerns center on whether residents and even state employees could face federal prosecution, while some lawmakers are worried that marijuana could fall into the wrong hands due to lax rules.
Lawmakers technically have until the end of the month to approve the measure or come up with their own alternative. Given the concerns expressed at the hearing, however, that’s unlikely to happen, meaning that MMJ supporters must gather nearly 11,500 valid signatures by Independence Day to get the measure on the November ballot.
Under the plan, Massachusetts would allow patients with certain medical conditions to use marijuana with the permission of a doctor. The state would let up to three dozen nonprofit dispensaries set up shop to distribute cannabis.
The measure has a strong chance of passing if it’s put in front of voters. A recent poll found that 53% of respondents in Massachusetts support medical marijuana vs. just 35% who said they don’t. Massachusetts residents also voted several years ago to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, so they’re willing to back up their views at the ballot box.
Additionally, the medical marijuana issue doesn’t seem to draw the passionate responses from medical cannabis opponents seen in other states. The legislative hearing on the MMJ bill was “sparsely attended” – indicating that it’s not overly controversial.