Pubdate: Fri, 30 Dec 2016
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2016 The Washington Post Company
Author: Amber Phillips


In November, Massachusetts voters decided to make recreational
marijuana legal, allowing it to be bought and sold in stores by
January 2018. But this week, state lawmakers quietly voted to delay
the sale date by at least six months.

The delay has outraged some marijuana-legalization advocates, less so
because they'll have to wait a few months to buy pot and more so
because they feel the legislature is trying to subvert the will of the
people by fundamentally changing what they voted for. A similar
skirmish is happening in Maine over the minimum wage, and progressives
in both states are worried that their opponents are trying to delay or
even reverse their remarkable success via ballot initiatives.

"No legislature has inserted themselves in such a way as to extend
timelines," said Jim Borghesani, director of communications for the
Massachusetts campaign to legalize marijuana. "It's direct democracy
by the voters, whether you like it or not."

Massachusetts state lawmakers passed the bill in an informal session
Wednesday with just a handful of lawmakers present. Lawmakers told the
Boston Globe they wanted more time to set up the bureaucracy around
the selling of marijuana. But legalization advocates note that
Massachusetts's timeline to legalize marijuana matches up with other
states that allow it.

That the legislature is involved at all in setting up a timeline is
especially frustrating to advocates, since the whole point of ballot
initiatives is to go around the legislative body. And in a nation
dominated by Republican legislatures (Massachusetts's is one of a
handful controlled by Democrats), going around legislatures is
something progressives have had a lot of success with in recent years.

Even though Republicans have nearly 2-to-1 control of state
legislatures, progressive ballot initiatives such as legalizing
marijuana, creating background checks for gun purchases and raising
the minimum wage have often sailed through when put to voters.

Marijuana will soon be legal in some form in 29 states and the
District of Columbia. Most states only allow medicinal, not
recreational, use, but eight states have now legalized the latter, and
the number is growing quickly. No state legislature has approved
legalization. (Though Vermont lawmakers tried this year, and several
legislatures have decriminalized marijuana.)

Raising the minimum wage has had comparable success; when put to the
voters, minimum wage increases have won every time but twice over the
past 20 years.

That includes Maine, where the victors of a November ballot initiative
to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 also find themselves
battling politicians.

Perennially controversial Gov. Paul LePage (R) has characterized
ballot initiatives as "recommendations" (they're not), and his
administration recently announced that it wouldn't enforce the state's
new minimum wage law (which passed by more than 10 points) for
restaurant servers for at least the first month.

Even though it's just a month-long delay for now, progressive groups
are particularly worried that Maine could serve as a template for
politicians to undermine ballot initiatives they don't like. Justine
Sarver, director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center,
said in a statement that LePage's decision to delay the minimum wage
increase is "egregious" and "despicable."

Perhaps no recent ballot initiatives have been more successful than
raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana. Marijuana had one
of its best nights ever in November, when voters in eight of nine
states voted to ease restrictions on it.

Which brings us back to Massachusetts, which will soon be one of eight
states where it's legal to smoke pot for any reason -- except not on
the timeline advocates thought.

All they can do now is hope that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) doesn't sign
the bill and/or that state lawmakers don't use the six-month delay to
make more changes to the legalization rollout, a fear of some advocates.

Outside Massachusetts and Maine, progressives also hope legislatures
don't take a cue from these states and start tinkering with ballot
initiatives after voters pass them.

This article has been corrected to clarify that while no state
legislature has approved legalization of marijuana, several have
approved decriminalization.
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MAP posted-by: Matt