Marijuana Legalization and the Role of the Massachusetts Legislature

Sean J. Kealy, Boston University School of Law


The public is often frustrated when Congress or their state legislature is not responsive to their policy priorities. This was especially true during the effort to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts. The legislature consistently refused to take up the issue despite public support. Legalization advocates ultimately bypassed the legislature by turning to the ballot-initiative process on three occasions: first to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, then to legalize medical marijuana, and most recently to legalize recreational marijuana. After the electorate legalized recreational marijuana, the legislature further frustrated advocates, first by delaying implementation of key parts of the law and later by making significant changes. Despite the fierce criticism of the legislators for attempting to thwart the will of the people, this Essay argues that the Legislature acted in a responsible and effective manner. By giving a detailed history of the legislative activity during the legalization effort, this Essay attempts to show that the state legislature demonstrated valuable traits, including being appropriately cautious when legalizing a range of products that would require extensive regulation, properly considering the concerns of various constituencies, considering the available evidence, and effectively balancing the role of the executive branch.