There were four referendum questions on the Massachusetts ballot last month. Question 1 tried to expand the government's gambling monopoly, which voters wisely declined to permit. It isn't gambling that's bad, its the government monopoly. Question 2 attempted to make it easier to create more charter schools, but was soundly defeated by a disinformation campaign run by teacher's unions who felt their education monopoly threatened by the proposal. Their victory will probably be a short-lived one, however, as President-elect Trump has nominated a passionate pro-charter advocate as Secretary of Education, which means directives favorable to charter schools will be flowing down from Washington to Massachusetts for the next four years regardless. On Question 3, voters put their hearts ahead of their wallets by voting for an increase in food prices in order to give farm animals the right to bigger cages. But the really significant ballot referendum was Question 4, which legalized marijuana for recreational use. The vote was closer than expected, but in a democracy it's winner take all, and a one vote win has the same effect as a landslide. Let's examine who gains and who loses from legalization beginning with....
Crony Capitalists - The law could have been written so that on a certain date anyone with a liquor license could automatically begin selling marijuana products, thereby allowing consumers the convenience of getting their buds with their Budweiser. Alas, such a quick, simple, effective and commonsense solution was never an option and we have instead ended up with a lengthy, complex, bureaucratic and corruption prone process that will probably mirror the slow motion procedure which failed to get a single outlet open until nearly three years after the referendum legalizing medical pot passed. Predictably, the whole medical marijuana process was tilted heavily in favor of political insiders, such as the dispensary planned for Springfield that actually awarded one company a ten year monopoly on medical marijuana sales (I would have loved to have seen the names of the silent partners behind that boondoggle). Fortunately, the Springfield City Council stepped in before the deal was finalized, but expect more of the same kind of corrupt shenanigans to litter the path to full legalization.
The Kids - It's an outrage that our culture currently steers young people towards alcohol consumption. While marijuana isn't harmless, it is dramatically less dangerous than booze and it is wonderful that today's young people will finally have a safer alternative to consider.
The Activists - When I was a kid smoking pot with my friends in Pine Point's Snake Woods, hiding from the police, I distinctly remember many of us saying, in full sincerity, that when we became adults and our generation was running things, we would definitely legalize pot. I'm embarrassed that it actually took us so long to finally do it, but our failure wasn't for a lack of effort by some never say die activists. Today, when pot is so trendy, it is too easy to forget that local legends such as Aaron Wilson, Terry Franklin, Rachel Neulander, Dick Evans and the UMass Cannabis Reform Coalition were fighting the good fight back when it was difficult and even dangerous to do so. Thanks to heroes such as them, our youthful promise has been kept and my generation redeemed.
The Mob - People who buy their weed from Harry the Happy Hippie are too often unaware that behind their friendly local dealer is a terrible web of drug trade mobsters who are usually totally corrupt and prone to violence. Putting these bad actors out of business alone would fully justify legalization even if there were no other virtues.
The Taxpayers - If it makes money, tax it! That's been the motto of the Massachusetts legislature for several decades now, and marijuana will be no exception. The danger is that high taxes will push the cost of pot too high, so that the mob controlled cartels will remain in business. For example, medical marijuana sells for about $350 per ounce legally, but in Western Mass you can get an ounce on the black market for around $200. Ironically, a lot of black market weed appears to be medical marijuana that has leaked into the black market. It will be self defeating if you can get a big bargain by shunning the legal stuff and patronizing the mob instead, but who knows what the clueless politicians will end up doing.
Referendum Questions - The needless complexity and bad policies baked into the pot referendum bill is a classic example of a weakness of the referendum process, which is that they are often badly written. While you might expect that when you have hippies writing legislation, the upcoming legislative fracas over revising the law will only serve to undermine faith in the referendum as a policy making tool. Of course, we should not lose sight of the fact that the only reason we didn't get a professionally written bill is that the legislators themselves were too cowardly to touch the issue on their own, hence the need for the referendum in the first place.