The Citizens’ Choice

Come every election, there’s a lot at stake on the ballot. In Massachusetts, one of the initiatives is Question 4 which proposes the legalization, regulation, and taxation of recreational marijuana (Ballotpedia). What impact could this have on a state that has already decriminalized the drug? To find out more, I attended The Citizens’ Choice: Legalizing Recreational Marijuana presented by The Edward. M Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and WGBH.fullsizerender-1

The program commenced with remarks from Dr. Jean F. MacCormack, President of the EMK Institute, on Senator Kennedy’s vision for the site as a center of civic engagement. Representative Jonathon Hect (D-Watertown) followed with an overview of the Citizen’s Initiative Review. This pilot program selected a random sample of the state population to weigh the pros and cons of Question 4 and draft their findings in an official document (CIRMA2016).

The focus of the night revolved around an active panel discussion moderated by Jim Braude, host of WGBH’s Greater Boston. The speakers featured Dr. Kevin Sabet, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida; Madeline Martinez, Director Emeritus of Oregon NORML; Andrew Freedman, Director of Marijuana Coordination for the State of Colorado; Massachusetts State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester); and Dr. Kevin Hill, Addiction Psychiatrist and Clinical Researcher (Eventbrite). Whether it was showing concern over the commercialization of marijuana, defending personal freedoms, or using scientific evidence to highlight potential health risks of recreational usage, each panelist shared a perspective on this layered subject. Adding to the quality material provided, moderator Jim Braude pressed for answers to common misconceptions that the audience would benefit from knowing.


This event was a great opportunity to engage the public in politics. Unlike political debates which tend to be about aggressively promoting platforms, the discussion excelled as an interactive and educational experience. As a resident of MA, I feel confident in making an informed decision on Question 4 heading into the voting booth. To relive the program, watch here.


Which sources are you relying on to stay up-to-date with state ballot initiatives? Should there be a stronger emphasis on public outreach events?

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  1. Sounds liek an interesting program and a great way to inform the electorate about a public issue. It also takes the money out fo the equation. You don’t get a louder voice like you do if buy more TV ads.

    • Thanks for your comment Ken. Not being driven by dollars gives the program an honest and balanced foundation for educating the public.

  2. I admittedly don’t stay very updated on state ballot initiatives, so I’m certain a stronger emphasis on public outreach events would be great. Too often laws, etc are these aloof things the general public feels they aren’t a part of, but it’s every citizen’s right to be informed and get involved–though that’s easier said than done.

    • Thanks for your comment Jeri. I too somewhat feel out of the loop of civic engagement, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. It wasn’t until I started searching for election-themed events that I came across the Citizen’s Choice series, so being proactive pays off. What type of outreach events resonate with you?

  3. I recently made a pretty big move so I’m still finding my way around my new home, but one of the first things I did when I arrived was register to vote. I haven’t had a chance to dig into local issues yet, but I definitely plan to before it comes time to vote. Thanks for sharing and the important reminder.

    • Thanks for your comment Marquita. Glad you found time to register amidst your busy schedule. It has been encouraging this election season how digital platforms have come up with ways to boost voter registration turnout. I definitely encourage you to look up initiatives on your local ballet when the moving settles down!

  4. I think I heard that California, where I live, will be voting to legalize marijuana (or not) as well. The funny thing is that medical marijuana is already legal, and there are about 4 places to buy medical marijuana right down the block. So most people already know how to manipulate the system to get it legally so I don’t pay much attention to that issue. I’m not as involved in local politics as I should be. But last year I was a member of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and it was interesting to get involved on a local, city level.

    • Thanks for your comment Erica. You’re right about CA voting on legalizing recreational marijuana, so it’ll be interesting nationwide to see which states see that through. What would you say is the biggest hurdle in getting involved with local politics?

  5. I tend to look for information through our local public radio station to make informed decisions. Thanks for letting us know about this vote.

    • Thanks for your comment Sabrina. Which local stations do you listen to?

  6. Sounds like an interesting event. Can’t help wondering though why it’s necessary to discussion decrimilization of recreational marijuana in a state that has already decrimilized the drug? Is there any middle aged person in the West who has never tried marijuana? A whole generation would be practically wiped out, or at least drug addicts, if it was highly dangerous and addictive.

    • Thanks for your comment Catarina. I think because the conversation has evolved from whether smoking marijuana is good or bad, there’re factors like advertising exposure to teens and economic benefits to think about. Public events like the one I attended are helpful in looking at all sides of the equation.

  7. I’ve never smoked marijuana or used any other drugs. I just wonder whether decriminalizing recreational use will lead users to trade up to more dangerous drugs. I lean towards using marijuana for medicinal purposes, where it has proven its efficacy.

    • Thanks for your comment Jeannette. I wonder if there’ve been studies addressing your point about trading up? That’d be interesting to look into.

  8. It sounds to be an interesting event, this is a good way to inform the electorate of the public issue. I haven’t smoked or tried any drugs nor would like to. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for your comment Sushmita. Events like these are valuable even for nonsmokers because we soon may be dealing with a society where marijuana usage is the new normal.

  9. Once we did have a lot of political discourse in this country. People putting out their views, and listening to the views of others. I think the difference is now, some of them think theirs is the ONLY way, and everyone else who does not share their view are Anti-American.
    I do however, think we are going down a bad path legalizing drugs, I know people think I am wrong, but when the benefits fade away and the price that taking them comes, you may see the cost out ways the benefits.

    • Thanks for your comment William. What’s interesting about this initiative is that it forces the public to weigh both sides of the vote. Times are changing, so we’ll see if the final outcome reflects that trend.

  10. Personally, I tend to shy away from anything political because I just really can’t understand most of it. But, with something as important as the upcoming US presidential election I do try to look up news on it now and then. I have to say though that I still hold very little interest when it comes to politics, even politics in my own country,

    • Thanks for your comment Rosary. I understand shying away from things we don’t understand. That’s why public events are valuable in getting over that fear of not knowing and taking on a more engaged stance.

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