From more gambling to legal pot, voters weigh ballot issues

Massachusetts considered safely in Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's column

BOSTON (AP) — With no statewide races on the ballot and Massachusetts considered safely in Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s column, much of the campaign conversation in the state has centered on four initiative petitions on Tuesday’s state ballot.

Voters are being asked to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana, expand charter schools, ban the sale of food products from farms where animals are mistreated, and allow for consideration of another gambling slots parlor.

Here are some things to know about Questions 1-4 on the ballot:


The state’s 2011 gambling law, upheld by voters in 2014, allows for three resort-style casinos and one slots-only facility that is already licensed and operating in Plainville. Question 1 would allow for a second slots parlor, but not just anywhere. The measure proposed by a developer is so narrowly worded that the only place in Massachusetts likely to qualify is land near the Suffolk Downs race track.

Ads run by proponents point to millions of dollars in tax revenue being generated by the existing slots parlor and state that a yes vote would bring more such revenue for Massachusetts. But that’s not the entire story. A yes vote would only authorize— not require — the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to award a second slots parlor license. And the commission could only sign off if it has local voter support. Voters in Revere rejected the proposed facility by a wide margin in a recent, albeit nonbinding, referendum.



More money has been spent for and against this question on charter schools than any other ballot measure in state history. Yet these types of public schools, which operate independently from local school boards, have existed in Massachusetts since 1995. So why such a fuss now?

A complex state formula caps charter schools spending at 9 percent in most school districts, and 18 percent in the state’s most chronically underperforming districts. Technically speaking, Question 2 doesn’t alter those caps. But it would authorize the state’s education board to approve up to 12 new or expanded charter schools each year beyond those caps — so Boston, for example, could get more charters even if the city has reached its statutory limit.

Only 4 percent of the state’s public school students attend charters, with about 32,000 on wait lists, according to state data. Few suburban and rural school districts are anywhere near current caps. So Question 2 is largely being decided by voters with no direct stake in the outcome, who must weigh proponents’ arguments that charter schools offer families a solid educational alternative to failing urban schools against opponents’ claims that charters slowly drain resources from traditional schools where the bulk of children attend.



A yes vote would prohibit farms from keeping livestock, including chickens and pigs, in cages so restrictive the animals can’t spread their wings or even turn completely around.

Such conditions are rare in Massachusetts farms. What has sparked controversy is another provision in the ballot question that would prohibit the sale in the state of eggs or other food products from farms in other states where animals are similarly mistreated.

Animal rights advocates who back the question and retailers and egg producers who oppose it generally agree that requiring the sale of what are commonly known as “cage-free” eggs would increase prices for consumers, though by how much is unclear.

One often overlooked fact about Question 3: It would not take effect until 2022.



Recent polls that suggest Massachusetts voters are leaning toward legalizing recreational marijuana have prompted speculation that even if Question 4 passes, the Legislature is likely to tinker with what critics contend is a law largely written by, and for, the commercial marijuana industry.

Among provisions that could be reviewed is the proposed tax rate on retail marijuana sales, which would be considerably lower than in states like Colorado and Washington that have previously legalized pot.

The Legislature could also examine whether to impose restrictions on sales of edible marijuana products or on levels of THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — or leave such decisions to future regulators. Municipal officials may also push for enhanced regulatory power over so-called pot shops opening in their communities.

If the measure passes, retail sales probably won’t begin until 2018. But as of Dec. 15 it would be legal for individuals 21 and over to possess small amounts of marijuana, or cultivate up to six marijuana plants in their homes.

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