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It Seems To Be Happening All Over: Is Recreational Marijuana Headed for Massachusetts?

Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. In 2012, more than 60% of voters approved of Question 3, passing the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative. With 23 states now legalizing marijuana for medical use, and as many as 11 states with pending legislation to decide the issue this year, we may soon see a clear majority of states legalizing medical marijuana. Now marijuana advocates are pushing for legalized recreational use of the drug, but in the meantime medical marijuana proponents are still waiting for Massachusetts to put the more than two year old initiative into effect.

The process has been slow going in Massachusetts. Marijuana dispensaries are still waiting to open their doors to patients. Of the 15 registered dispensaries that have recently been approved by the Department of Public Health, only one in Salem is ready to go, and hopes to be open soon. Advocates argue that the delays are affecting patients, who are forced to buy their drugs on the streets. Even patient certification is meeting with additional hurdles, as those seeking official permission to carry will now have to get electronic verification. After verification by the Massachusetts Marijuana Online System, they'll get a card to carry pot, but still have nowhere to buy their medicine.

In 2012, voters in Colorado approved recreational use of marijuana and a little over year later dispensaries, pot-based products, and headshops were supplying customers with state-legalized marijuana. Also in 2012, Washington also approved recreational marijuana, but on a slower timeline, with retail sales starting in the summer of 2014. The western states of Oregon and Alaska also joined in approving recreational marijuana last year, as well as the country's capital of Washington D.C. The impacts of legalization are still under debate as other states wait to see the short term and long term effects of legalized pot.

Opponents are citing an increased use in marijuana, including an increase in student related incidents at schools. Neighboring states are also blaming the legalization as increasing trafficking in the drug in their states where it remains illegal. Meanwhile, the proponents are noting the great increase in state tax revenue, in the tens of millions of dollars a year, while pointing out that the opponents' greatest worries were blown out of proportion. According to John Hudak, with the Brookings Institution, a year in, "we do know it's not an end-of-days disaster, and that allows us from a policy perspective to be a little more patient, to get more data so we can make an empirical assessment rather than a flippant assessment."

It may remain too early to see how legalizing marijuana will change a state's fiscal situation and crime rate, but that hasn't stopped advocates for pushing legislation across the country. The next two years may bring big changes for legalized marijuana, with Arizona, California, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Nevada all potentially voting on the issue. Here in the Commonwealth, a ballot initiative is expected for 2016, but some are pushing for legislative action on the issue before a ballot initiative even becomes necessary. Politicians in Beacon Hill have even introduced a Special Senate Committee on Marijuana to look at the experiences of the other recreation pot states, and make legislative recommendations.

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