By Jim Haddadin/Daily News Staff
FRAMINGHAM – For years, Jim Pillsbury has been a familiar sight on Tax Day, standing outside the post office in Framingham and holding a sign encouraging voters to legalize marijuana.
This April, the 62-year-old won’t be there.
After decades campaigning to change the state’s drug laws, Pillsbury is all but certain Massachusetts voters are ready to make a historic decision in November 2016, when a ballot question will potentially ask them to legalize recreational marijuana sales, joining Colorado and a handful of other states where voters have approved similar laws.
“I’m not going to stand by the side of the road anymore with a sign that says, ‘Legalize pot,’” Pillsbury said Friday. “I think people have pretty much made up their minds on this by now.”
Marijuana legalization advocates in MetroWest could be celebrating a major victory next year if one of two initiative petitions aimed at legalizing pot make it onto the ballot.
The group backing one of those ballot proposals, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said last week it collected more than 100,000 signatures, of which at least 69,000 were certified by city and town clerks.
“This is direct democracy in action,” Will Luzier, the manager of the ballot campaign, said in a statement. “People can see that our current prohibition policy isn’t working, and they’re taking action to replace it with a more sensible system. Based on the level of support and enthusiasm we saw during the petition drive, voters are ready to end prohibition and start treating marijuana more like how our state treats alcohol.”
Pillsbury and some other long-time activists in Massachusetts gathered signatures for a second initiative, which is facing a less certain fate. A proposal from Bay State Repeal would legalize marijuana for people age 21 and older and subject marijuana to the state sales tax, but it wouldn’t create a new licensing commission or limit the amount of marijuana adults could possess or grow.
Under state law, a minimum of 64,750 valid signatures from registered voters are needed to advance the proposed ballot question. The deadline for turning in the signatures fell on Wednesday at 5 p.m.
The Secretary of State’s Office is expected to announce later this week which petitions gathered the required signatures.
"We sort of knew right up front, without any influx of big dollars to help us collect signatures, it was going to be an insurmountable task to collect that many signatures," Pillsbury said.
If the Bay State Repeal measure fails to advance, Pillsbury said he will cast his support by the other ballot question, but with some reservations. He believes the proposal could create a “huge bureaucracy” and establish a fee structure for commercial growers that will make it difficult for those without significant financial banking to get in the business. And medical marijuana growers who are already permitted to operate in Massachusetts would have a jump start on potential competitors, he said.
"They could make that switch from medical to an open market really quickly,” Pillsbury said, “and I hope that it doesn't affect the thousands of people that already have prescriptions and that already use it now."
The Legislature now has until the first week in May to vote on the proposal, but it's unlikely to win approval from lawmakers given opposition to legalized marijuana from key state officials including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg said last week he expected voters would ultimately decide the issue. Assuming no action by lawmakers, organizers would need to collect at least 10,792 additional signatures to place the question on the November 2016 ballot.
Material from Bob Salsberg and Steve LeBlanc of the Associated Press was used in this report. Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.