Cloned plants that are used to grow medical marijuana are displayed under a light at a medical marijuana cooperative in Seattle in October 2013. (Ted S. Warren, Associated Press file)

Massachusetts marijuana legalization proposal faces legislative battle

BOSTON — Supporters and foes of legalizing marijuana gathered at the Massachusetts Statehouse on Monday to weigh in on a proposal that would allow the recreational use and possession of marijuana up to an ounce for those 21 and older.

The proposal was the focus of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Supporters have collected enough signatures to move the proposal to the November ballot if lawmakers opt against debating and voting on it.

The question faces a tough slog in the Legislature, increasing the chances that it will be left to voters to decide. Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo opposes the measure.

Will Luzier, of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, called on lawmakers to embrace what he called “a far more sensible marijuana policy” for the state.

Luzier said laws against marijuana haven’t stopped marijuana use.

“It only ensures that marijuana is unregulated, untested, untaxed, and sold by gangs and criminals,” Luzier said. “It is time to regulate marijuana and stop punishing adults for consuming a substance that is less dangerous than alcohol.”

The measure would also allow individuals to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes.

Massachusetts voters have already approved two earlier ballot questions that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and authorized patients with certain medical conditions to use the drug.

The new proposal would also create a 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales that would be assessed on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. The question would also give cities and towns the option to add an additional 2 percent sales tax on top of the state taxes.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, and Democratic Boston Mayor Marty Walsh wrote a letter in The Boston Globe opposing the ballot question and arguing that young people are more likely to use marijuana when it is legal.

“Kids in states that have legalized marijuana have easier access to the drug. And many believe that, since the drug is legal for adults, it must be safe to use,” the three wrote.

They said that edible marijuana products — often in the form of brownies, candy or soda — pose a particular threat for children, who can mistake them for regular treats.

The three also portrayed the backers of the ballot question as “big businesses and investors, who are spending millions on campaigns across the country because they will profit from the legalization of marijuana.”

They linked the question to the state’s ongoing ballot with opioid overdoses, saying the state “should not be expanding access to a drug that will further drain our health and safety resources.”

On Tuesday, Massachusetts senators who visited Colorado in January to learn more about that state’s experience with the legalized use of recreational marijuana are expected to release their findings.

The Senate Special Committee on Marijuana was created last year by Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg in response to the proposed ballot question.

Three other states — Washington, Alaska and Oregon — have legalized recreational pot.