Rosenberg predicts a tough ballot fight over legalizing pot

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BOSTON – Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, a no-show at the launch of a campaign to defeat a proposed ballot measure to make marijuana retail sales legal, said Tuesday he still supports a third option that would make it more politically palatable for lawmakers to play a role in legalization if approved by voters.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both Democrats, teamed up last week to announce the formation of the the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts to fight legalizing pot sales to adults. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, said that while he hasn’t joined that group, that doesn’t mean he supports the proposed ballot measure.

“I’m still trying to get the idea that a question on the ballot that asks the people do you want to do this without approving an actual bill, as has been presented by two groups, is the better way to go,” Rosenberg said.

Some surveys of state residents have shown strong support for the proposal, but Rosenberg said the if the proposed ballot question, as written, passed in November it would still need some work on Beacon Hill.

“There’s likely to have to be some surgery on the bill here in the Legislature to address some of the matters that have not been covered in the ballot version,” Rosenberg said. Lawmakers are typically reluctant to tinker with ballot measures approved by voters, but it has been done in the past, mostly notably when the Legislature voted to slow a rollback in the income tax rate to 5 percent.

“It’s going to be a very vigorous campaign unless the governor and the speaker decide to join in the idea that we put a question on the ballot to give the voters a chance to answer yes or no and then leave it to the Legislature to debate and form bill in the next term,” Rosenberg said.

“If that doesn’t happen, which at the moment it doesn’t look like it will, there’s going to be a very, very robust and rock ’em sock ’em campaign on the ballot,” Rosenberg said. “A lot of money’s going to get spent. It’s a very political issue and there will be a lot of rhetoric and there will be a lot of give and take, but in the end it will be up to the voters to decide.”

Written by Matt Murphy