In the early stage of Massachusetts’ legal pot ballot battle, local activists are betting on the underdog.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition – the group behind Boston’s popular pro-pot Freedom Rally and better known as MassCann – last week endorsed a homegrown ballot initiative from a group called Bay State Repeal, over one from the much-better-funded Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
The Campaign, sponsored by the national Marijuana Policy Project - supports a highly regulated and taxed marketplace for marijuana. BSR, meanwhile, supports legalization with looser restrictions on possessing and growing cannabis and no new taxes.
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MassCann members were overwhelmingly in favor of the less restrictive proposal, said Bill Downing, the group’s president. The vote, he said, was a “a landslide.”
Downing is also Bay State Repeal’s treasurer.
He said MassCann volunteers planned to collect signatures and donations from revelers at the late-September Freedom Rally, which attracts tens of thousands every year and has been a popular magnet for activists and tokers around New England since the first one in 1989.
The endorsement speaks to a divide between the two ballot campaigns on the value of grassroots activism in legalization.
On one side is Bay State Repeal. In an interview with Metro, a group spokesperson called MassCann’s support “invaluable,” and saw it as further proof that their rivals The Campaign were encroaching on their territory.
“Don’t come to our state and mess with the locals, because we outnumber you,” said Steve Epstein, BSR’s fire-tongued press secretary. “Despite your deep pockets, we’ve got the numbers.”
On the other is The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. The group, a spokesperson told Metro, doesn’t need MassCann’s activists to earn support from voters.
“We’re running a statewide campaign and we intend to appeal to voters throughout the spectrum. Not just activists in the marijuana movement, regular voters,” said Jim Borghesani, the group’s communications director. “They’re the people who are going to do this, not the people at the activist level.”
He also said legalization activists were “committed people doing a great job,” but said The Campaign’s strategy of pitching tight regulations and promising a new revenue stream for the state was “a much more effective approach.”
Freedom Rally organizers said Campaign staff were still welcome to collect signatures at the event, which features speakers, musical acts and tends to be an unusually permissive environment for pot use.
Borghesani said he wasn’t sure what the group’s presence would be at the gathering.
It’s possible both groups could have questions appear on the 2016 ballot, or that one would concede the space to the other. Both also await word from the Attorney General’s office on Sept. 2 on whether their proposals pass legal muster.
With 15 months before the 2016 election, Massachusetts appeared ready to support legalization. A recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll of 600 voters found 53 percent favored the idea, and just 37 percent opposed it.
No matter which group takes the lead in urging Massachusetts voters to endorse the idea, MassCann’s Downing said he was confident the state would legalize marijuana in 2016.
“It’s coming. It’s like a giant freight train moving at 60 miles per hour,” Downing said. “There’s nothing that’s going to stop it.”