The Death of Marijuana Prohibition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
On November 8, 2016, the people of Massachusetts voted to end the long reign of fear over the possession of marijuana. By a convincing margin, they endorsed the Question 4 initiative to end marijuana prohibition in the Commonwealth. They backed the measure despite the concerted opposition of state political elites like Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey. Now anyone over the age of 21 can possess, grow, and use marijuana for all lawful purposes including recreational.
The campaign to abolish marijuana prohibition has evolved over many decades. Milestones in the road to public acceptance were laid along the way. They included the reduced emphasis on marijuana in the state code for illicit drugs, the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts, and the approval of marijuana for compassionate medical care.
These advances were made in a country where the federal government still adheres to “War on Drugs” policing from the 1980s. Under this zero tolerance approach, marijuana continues to be defined as a highly illicit drug with no medicinal purpose despite evidence to the contrary. It is still ranked on par with heroin.
In Massachusetts, the state ACLU found that blacks constituted nearly 25 percent of the arrests for marijuana possession while being only 8 percent of the state population. According to the ACLU a “black person is 3.3 times more likely to be arrested than a white person” though both groups use marijuana at the same rate. While the transition to lawful marijuana will not end unjust “stop and frisk” practices, it will weaken one outcome from it.
In addition, it will free people across the state from the fear of prosecution for recreational and medicinal use, and create new opportunities for commerce and tax revenues. The voters of Massachusetts elected to join those of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Maine, Nevada and the District of Columbia in reforming the way authorities handle this issue. In fact, more than half the states have enacted laws that in practice legalize the use of marijuana in some form.
This spring, journalism students in JR364 – History of the Alternative Press chronicled this transformational period in state history. Their stories explore different aspects of the end of marijuana prohibition – how did we arrived to this period of reform and where do we go from here?
We hope the users of the Iwasaki Library research guide will find these stories of value in their study of the topic.
The participating students are Duncan Bochicchio, Katie Burns, Melanie Camacho, Ross Cristantiello, Tommaso Diblasi, Aiden Dobens, Manami Fujiwara, Bret Hauff, John Hobbs, Danny Johnson, Laura King, Deirdre Murray, Ke Na, Anahita Padmanabhan, Sabrina Petrafesa, Lily Rugo, Yifei Shen, Ben Sherry, Jessica Shotobani, and Rebecca Szkutak.
Associate Professor of American Studies
Department of Journalism
Photo Source: Michael Sol Warren, “Massachusetts Will Vote,” motherboard.vice.com (5/3/2017)