MPHA Statement on Marijuana Ballot Initiative (Question 4)

MPHA has evaluated the available research literature and listened to both proponents and opponents of the question. After careful study, MPHA has concluded that the ballot initiative does not contain sufficient public health protections and that the potential dangers far outweigh any potential benefits.  Further, we have found little evidence that this ballot question would have a substantive impact on the racial discrimination that has been a stain on our country’s criminal justice system for far too long.  MPHA urges voters to reject this ballot question and join us to support more meaningful criminal justice reform that will reverse the institutionalized discrimination in our drug policies and protect public health.


MPHA has conducted an analysis of the proposed 2016 ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana and the regulatory framework contained within this specific ballot question.  Through our research, we have concluded that legalization of recreational marijuana under the provisions of this ballot question poses significant dangers to the Commonwealth, including:

  • Harm to small children and young adults from marijuana ‘edibles’ which can be mistaken for candy and other foods attractive to children
  • Aggressive advertising and promotional tactics that target vulnerable residents, including children,and the likelihood that the new multi-million dollar marijuana industry will follow the playbook of predatory tactics employed by big tobacco and alcohol to target low income communities and young people
  • Likely insufficient revenue generated to guarantee that the costs of regulation and oversight on the new industry will be covered
  • Complete lack of investment in youth prevention efforts to counteract the potential of increased youth access

Proponents of this ballot question have argued that passage of the ballot question would help address the inequitable impact of criminal justice and drug control policies on communities of color. Racial disparities in the enforcement and impact of marijuana prohibition have been well-documented and have contributed significantly to racial health disparities.

However, there is little evidence to support the claim that legalization of marijuana will have a strong or measurable impact on racial inequities in Massachusetts, especially in light of dramatic reduction in arrests and incarceration resulting from the 2008 decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. The ballot question, in fact, has the potential to further exacerbate inequities by creating a large commercial industry with financial incentive to target low income communities and communities of color, a common strategy of the tobacco and alcohol industries. Emerging reports from Colorado give further cause for concern by indicating worsening racial disparities in enforcement in some cases.

Instead of supporting this ballot measure, we urge all voters who care about racial justice and health equity to support substantive criminal justice reforms that will address the historical legacy of racial discrimination in our drug policies. The 2008 decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana was a step in the right direction.  Similarly, the recent passage of legislation to repeal automatic driver’s license suspensions for drug convictions represents important progress. But more work is necessary. In particular, we support efforts to:

  • Repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences
  • Create alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes
  • Pass bail reform so that people are no longer in prison just because they cannot raise bail for less serious crimes
  • Redirect funds currently spent on prison construction and incarceration costs for nonviolent crimes to job training programs, youth jobs, and dropout prevention programs

The ballot initiative to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in Massachusetts does not provide sufficient public health protections nor does it promise to advance racial justice.

We urge voters who share our values to vote no on Question 4 in November.

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