Massachusetts Group Submits Signatures for Medical Marijuana Ballot Measure

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A growing number of states will consider medical marijuana initiatives next year, either in the form of bills or ballot measures.

But if you’re betting on which one has the best chance to push through such legislation, you’d be wise to go all in on Massachusetts.

A group called the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance submitted signatures yesterday for an initiative to let voters decide whether to allow the use and sale of medical marijuana via a system overseen by the state’s Department of Health. Under the proposal, as many as 35 licensed, nonprofit dispensaries could set up shop in Massachusetts to provide pot to registered patients. Medical cannabis cards would be given to residents with serious medical conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Organizers of the initiative need 68,911 valid signatures to get the measure on the 2012 ballot. The coalition likely submitted tens of thousands of extra signatures, a common practice given that some are inevitably thrown out. State officials must now verify the signatures before the measure advances.

This gives pot supporters a two-pronged strategy for legalizing medical marijuana in the state. In addition to the potential ballot initiative, legislators are considering a bill that would legalize the use of pot for medical purposes and allow up to 19 nonprofit dispensaries, with the possibility of more if needed.

The patient coalition said it decided to move forward with the ballot initiative in case the state Legislature doesn’t pass the marijuana bill by next spring. In this scenario, voters would then get to decide the issue rather than politicians.

Either way, we’ll likely see some form of medical marijuana law passed in Massachusetts next year, as public support for MMJ there is strong. Voters supported a measures several years ago to decriminalize weed, and recent polls show that the vast majority of residents approve of medical cannabis.