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Massachusetts Voters Made History In 2016 By Legalizing Marijuana

an early voting sign
Paul Tuthill

This was an unforgettable year in politics.  The presidential election that defied polls and pundits dominated the nation’s focus, while voters in Massachusetts made history through a ballot referendum.

Massachusetts in 2016 became the latest state to legalize marijuana.

Although it was opposed by most of the state’s political establishment including the Republican governor and Democratic attorney general, voters overwhelmingly approved Question 4 to make it legal  for  adults over age 21 to use, possess, and grow small amounts of marijuana.

It was a sweet victory for Dick Evans, a Northampton lawyer who for decades had campaigned to lift the ban on marijuana in the Bay State.

"Many years ago I believed it would not take this long, but it did," said Evans. " But now it has happened and we are thrilled it has happened."

In 2017, state legislators and the office of State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg will build the regulatory framework to allow retail pot stores to open in 2018.  

The 2016 election was the first time Massachusetts offered in-person early voting and it was a big hit. Almost a quarter of the state’s registered voters cast their ballots before Election Day.

After filling out his ballot at the Mayfair Community Center in Springfield, Alan Surprenant said the process for voting early was quick and simple.

"I think it is a great thing and I'm surprised it took this long to do it," he said.

President-elect Donald Trump lost Massachusetts to Hillary Clinton by a huge margin, but the Bay State did help boost the billionaire businessman to the Republican nomination.  Trump handily won the GOP primary in Massachusetts.  Outside the polling place at the Greenleaf Community Center in Springfield, Kenneth Norman said he voted for Trump because he’s fed up with politicians.

"They all have rhetoric. A lot say things and don't do it. ( Trump) has been successful, so we'll see what happens."

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker refused to endorse Trump and chose not to vote for president.

"I was discouraged and disappointed by both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton," said Baker. " I had concerns about Donald Trump's temperamant and concerns about Hillary Clinton's believability."

Baker’s name was not on the ballot in 2016, but he was the most prominent campaigner for a ballot question to expand charter schools. Voters shot it down in what turned out to be the most expensive referendum campaign in state history.

Voters settled the first competitive election for Hampden County Sheriff in 40 years, choosing career corrections officer Nick Cocchi to succeed legendary Sheriff Mike Ashe.

Hampshire County voters also elected a new sheriff in the person of Patrick Cahillane, who will succeed Sheriff Robert Garvey, who joins Ashe in retirement.

Three members of the western Massachusetts delegation in the state legislature said goodbye to their constituents and legislative colleagues, after choosing not to run again.  Ben Downing of Pittsfield will leave the State Senate after representing the Berkshires for a decade.  Ellen Story of Amherst retired after 26 years in the Massachusetts House. And after 22 years, Ben Swan of Springfield decided not to run for another term in the House.

"I will  miss my association with other members of the House and Senate," said Swan. " But sometimes you just gotta move on."

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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