Massachusetts court to hear case against marijuana ballot initiative

BOSTON Opponents of an initiative that could allow voters to legalize recreational marijuana use in Massachusetts are due to argue before the state’s top court on Wednesday that the measure is flawed and must not be allowed on November ballots.

A group of 59 state residents challenged the measure, submitted by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, saying that a summary of the petition produced by the office of state Attorney General Maura Healey and used to gather supporters’ signatures was insufficiently specific.

Massachusetts is one of a half-dozen U.S. states, including California and Maine, where voters may have a chance this fall to follow Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon in legalizing recreational use of the drug by adults 21 and over.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear arguments from opponents, who contend the official summary of the measure is fatally flawed for a variety of reasons. They say it does not specifically use the word “food” to make clear that the measure would allow the sale of edible products such as candy that contain Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that causes the drug’s effects.

“Edible products with THC are dangerous for adults and children (who mistakenly ingest innocent-looking, but THC-infused, candy, cookies and sodas),” the opponents of the measure argued in a court filing ahead of the hearing.

Opponents also argued that the description fails to mention the word “hashish,” which they described as a stronger form of the drug, typically presented as an oil.

Healey’s office rejected that claim, saying, “the term ‘hashish’ does not have a single commonly accepted meaning that voters would necessarily understand.”

After supporters gathered 64,000 voter signatures and the attorney general’s office verified the measure’s suitability for the ballot, the state legislature had a chance in May to enact it without waiting for a vote. Lawmakers declined to do so and proponents now need to gather another 10,000 signatures to secure the initiative a spot on the November ballot.

Some of the state’s top elected officials, including Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, a Democrat, have come out against the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana use in the state.

Massachusetts already allows medical marijuana use.

Polls have found voters in the state narrowly supportive of recreational use, with 49 percent of respondents to a May poll by WBUR/MassInc Poll supporting it and 42 percent opposing it.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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