Most Bay State employers oppose legal pot sales

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BOSTON – Almost two-thirds of Bay State employers oppose legalizing retail marijuana sales, according to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, one of the largest business advocacy groups in the region.

Of the employers who responded to the organization’s monthly Business Confidence Index Survey, 62 percent said they would vote against a November ballot measure that would call for making sales legal and subject to regulations similar to those used for alcohol, the association announced in a blog post Monday. Just 38 percent said they favored legalization.

The proposed ballot measure would tax pot sales and create a Cannabis Control Commission to handle regulation and licensing. If approved by voters, the new law would take effect on Dec. 15. State legislative leaders have indicated they don’t expect lawmakers to take up the issue to head off a vote on the proposal.

“We’re not surprised by the poll results, given the concerns being expressed to us by member employers,” John Regan, executive vice president of government affairs at the group, said in a statement.

If voters back the measure, Massachusetts would follow Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon in legalizing retail sales of the drug, which is still considered to be a controlled substance under federal law. Similar measures are pending in at least 18 other states, including all the New England states except Maine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

“How will an employer respond to a worker operating heavy equipment on a job site under the influence of marijuana? Many jobs, particularly those in safety-sensitive fields like transportation or manufacturing, must adhere to federal regulations that still prohibit the use of any substance that creates impairment,” Regan wrote.The organization opposes legalization.

Passage of the measure would “create considerable uncertainty for employers relative to their legal rights and obligations, particularly with workplace drug policies,” the group said, noting the additional difficulties that could result if pot became legal in Massachusetts while remaining illegal at the federal level.

The organization added that companies that currently receive favorable workers’ compensation insurance rates by declaring themselves to be drug-free workplaces could lose such ideal rates.

The proposal would also permit adults 21 and older legally possess as much as an ounce of marijuana outside of their home, and up to 10 ounces inside their residences.

Statewide, the debate has heated up with the Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh publicly opposing legalization even as outside money pours in to fund a campaign in favor of the ballot proposal. At the national level, a poll released March 25 by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that while most Americans consider substance abuse a significant problem, 61 percent say marijuana should be legalized, including a third who say there should be no restrictions at all on its sale.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.