The Baker administration is drawing suspicion for inserting language in the 2016 state Voter Guide that could influence voters’ opinion of Question 4, the measure that would regulate and tax marijuana. In its “Statement of Fiscal Consequences”–which is a new addition to the Voter Guide for 2016–the Baker administration included a speculative comment from the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana, which was chaired by Sen. Jason Lewis, a leading opponent of Question 4. The comment read: “Tax revenues and fees that would be generated from legal sales may fall short of even covering the full public and social costs (including regulation, enforcement, public health and safety, and substance abuse treatment).”
The Question 4 language differs sharply from language for the other three ballot questions. For example, the administration’s fiscal consequences language for Question 1 (expanded slot-machine gaming) said “The fiscal consequences of this proposed measure for state and municipal government finances could range from 0 dollars to an unknown positive amount.” Similarly, the fiscal consequences for Question 3 (conditions for farm animals) said “Because the law would not take effect until January 1, 2022, the fiscal consequences of this proposed measure for state and municipal government finances are unknown.”
So why did the administration insert such speculative and biased language in the Question 4 statement? Difficult to know for sure, but circumstantial evidence suggests political motivations. Baker, along with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, formed the official Question 4 opposition committee. Sen. Lewis, whose “open-minded” claims about legalization are undercut by his opposition to decriminalization in 2008 and medical marijuana in 2012, has toured the state as the top surrogate for Baker’s anti-Q4 Safe and Health Massachusetts committee. It doesn’t help Lewis’s cause that his own chief of staff described the Senate marijuana report as an “amateur economic effort” featuring “back-of-the-envelope-type calculations” in a July 12 Metro story. Nor does it reflect well on Lewis or the Baker administration that both ignored solid data that shows marijuana receipts far exceeding administrative costs in Colorado and other states.
This is not the first time the Baker administration has used false messaging to influence voters. Lt. Governor Karen Polito was criticized for telling municipal officials at a State House meeting last month that state aid to communities may be cut if Question 4 passes. Polito’s assertion is absurd: In every other state that has legalized, tax receipts from marijuana sales are coving administration costs and are returning money to taxpayers for school construction projects, community initiatives and other public benefits.
A change.org petition is now circulating to bring awareness to the Baker administration’s unfair approach to Question 4 in the Voter Guide. Voters deserve fairness in official state election documents, not propaganda that serves the governor’s personal viewpoints.