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Preparing for pot: A guide to Question 4

Marijuana could soon be legal. You, the voters of Massachusetts, get to decide on Nov. 8 whether to approve the drug for recreational use. Here’s what a yes vote might mean.

The Smoker

What’s the deal?

Question 4 would legalize marijuana for recreational use on Dec. 15 this year for adults 21 and over. (An early Merry Christmas!) Marijuana stores could start selling it on Jan. 1, 2018. (Happy New Year!)

Can I smoke legally on Boston Common?

Nope. If marijuana becomes legal, you still couldn’t smoke it (or eat a pot brownie) in a public place or smoke marijuana anywhere tobacco smoking is forbidden.

4/20 on the Quad?

Because most colleges get federal money, and pot is still illegal under federal law, universities would probably prohibit you from toking up anywhere on campus — even if it’s legal across Massachusetts. That’s what happened in states like Colorado that have already legalized the drug.

But I can get high in my apartment, right?

If you live off campus and your landlord is OK with it, you could smoke. Even if your landlord ISN’T OK with it, you could still eat and drink marijuana-infused products — unless you live in federally subsidized housing. You could have up to 10 ounces — a huge amount of weed — in your primary residence. And up to 12 marijuana plants per household could be grown for personal use, though landlords could prohibit such endeavors.

The Mother

Oh my goodness, should I be worried if this passes?

Maybe. In Colorado, where recreational sales became legal in 2014, parents have faced some new challenges, but society continues to function mostly the way it did before.

Should the prospect of legal pot-infused candy and cookies make me nervous about the safety of my toddler?

Opponents point to a study that found a link between the legalization of recreational marijuana and more hospital visits and poison control center cases because of unintentional exposure to the drug. But the total number of kids who get sick that way is low. For example, the ER at Children's Hospital in Denver saw about 16 such cases last year. The state’s population is 5.5 million.

What about my teenager?

If marijuana becomes as regulated and accessible as alcohol, it stands to reason that marijuana will be as accessible to teenagers as alcohol currently is, even though it’s illegal for people under 21. Proponents say it’s far better for pot to mostly be sold in stores that check IDs than by drug dealers who will sell to anyone. Opponents worry about young people seeing marijuana use as normal. Teen use of marijuana in Colorado has long been among the highest in the country and continues to be so.

If my kid starts smoking pot, is it a gateway drug?

Maybe. Pot-smoking (and drinking, for that matter) almost always comes before people use harder drugs. But most marijuana users don’t end up addicted to heroin.

The Local Politician

Will my community have a choice about whether to allow recreational marijuana businesses here?

You bet. You and the city or town leadership can call a referendum, and voters can decide whether or not to ​ban recreational marijuana businesses. ​But local governments can't unilaterally ban all recreational pot businesses; voters have to opt your community out.​ That’s different from Colorado, where communities had to opt in.

Can we keep people from using pot in city buildings and on school grounds, and can businesses here prohibit the consumption of marijuana by employees in the workplace?

One-hundred percent yes.

​Say we want some businesses here, but want to​ strictly regulate them. Is that kosher under this proposed law?

Totally. Your city can adopt reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner marijuana businesses ​are operated and limit how many there are in your community.

Well, one person’s reasonable is another person’s unreasonable, right?

Sure. The proposed law says your community's restrictions can't be "unreasonably impracticable." Essentially, the restrictions can't subject pot entrepreneurs to unreasonable risk or mandate such a high investment of time and money that a prudent businessperson would never operate a pot establishment.

Will this bring in new money to city coffers?

Depends. Cities and towns can impose a local 2 percent tax on marijuana sales they get to keep.

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The Police Officer

Wait a minute, I haven't arrested anyone for marijuana possession in many years.

Yup. A 2008 referendum got rid of criminal penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. And the number of people who end up incarcerated each year for possession of more than an ounce of pot is extremely low. Between the summer of 2012 and the summer of 2013, about four people whose most serious offense was marijuana possession were incarcerated, according to the most recent state data available.

Would there be more money for training on all the issues with legal pot and more enforcement? My department already is stretched thin.

In theory. The referendum would create a 3.75 percent state tax on marijuana sales and give communities the option of imposing an additional 2 percent tax. That money would go to implementing and enforcing the new marijuana law. Backers of the measure and opponents disagree over whether the tax revenue would be enough to cover new costs.

How do cops in a state like Colorado, which has legalized pot, describe their brave new world?

Not warmly. Some say quickly changing laws, regulations, and ordinances outpace their enforcement tools for related issues, such as drugged driving. And they say the idea that legalization would give them more time to focus on more serious criminal matters hasn't yet come true.

Will I still be able to arrest people for driving under the influence of marijuana?

Yes. Current Massachusetts law, which prohibits operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana, won't be affected. But state law doesn't have a marijuana impairment standard like it does for alcohol — 0.08 or greater blood alcohol concentration. That could make it tough to prove a driver is impaired.

I've heard there are many types of marijuana-infused candy and snacks in states where pot is legal. How can I tell if someone is driving with regular cookies or ones filled with THC, the main psychoactive substance in pot?

In some cases, it will be impossible. But Massachusetts could adopt regulations mandating that all marijuana food and drink be marked with a special symbol. Colorado, for example, requires almost every pot treat to have the letters THC and an exclamation point.

The Pet

Can I eat these pot brownies? They smell AMAZING!

Bad dog. No. The treats are filled with THC, the primary psychoactive substance in marijuana, and they will make you sick.

I love you. *wags tail* But they smell AMAZING, and I'd really like to eat them.

Bad dog. No. Vets in states like Colorado, where weed is legal, have seen an uptick in owners bringing canines that have eaten cannabis treats to the animal hospital. “With the increase in all these recreational products, we saw the number of marijuana intoxications go way up — several dogs a week here,” said Dr. Timothy Hackett, the director of the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “It’s all about the fact that edibles are tasty. A dog is not going to stop at a single cookie, but just keep eating until they’re all gone.”

I'm heartbroken. Can you give me something else to eat?

There are several retail marijuana products for dogs that don't have psychoactive THC, but rather other cannabis substances. They aim to help dogs with joint pain, those struggling with itching, and those that are too excited. But there's neither rigorous scientific data on efficacy nor official word from the US Food and Drug Administration.


Yeah, they probably don't taste as good as brownies.