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Backers of Massachusetts proposals to legalize pot, tax millionaires submit ballot signatures


BOSTON — Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts said they submitted more than enough signatures Tuesday to the secretary of state's office to keep alive their hopes of putting the proposal before voters next year.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said it collected more than 100,000 signatures on petitions around the state during the past two months, of which at least 69,000 were certified by city and town clerks. Under state law, a minimum of 64,750 valid signatures from registered voters were needed to advance the proposed ballot question.

The proposal would allow Massachusetts residents 21 or older to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. It would also create a 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales that would be assessed on top of the state's 6.25 percent sales tax.

"You don't want the tax to be too high because then it's difficult to undercut the black market, and you want the tax to be high enough so you can finance the regulation and have some money left over," said Will Luzier, campaign director for the group, as he emptied pages of signatures from two Christmas shopping bags at the state elections office.

The Legislature now has until the first week in May to vote on the proposal, but it's unlikely to win approval from lawmakers given opposition to legalized marijuana from key state officials including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg said last week he expected voters would ultimately decide the issue. Assuming no action by lawmakers, organizers would need to collect at least 10,792 additional signatures to place the question on the November 2016 ballot.

Four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — along with the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

It was unclear if supporters of a separate Massachusetts initiative, one that does not call for a marijuana excise tax, had collected enough certified signatures to keep their proposed ballot question alive. The deadline for turning in the signatures is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions, though licensed marijuana dispensaries have been slow to open because of regulatory delays.

Also Tuesday, a coalition favoring a constitutional amendment that would allow people who earn more than $1 million a year to be taxed at a higher rate than other Massachusetts residents held a rally to celebrate the submission of more than 100,000 certified signatures to the secretary of state.

"We are talking about achieving more equity, more fairness and more justice in our tax system, and I like justice," said Maria Elena Letona, head of Neighbor to Neighbor, one of the groups that helped collect signatures.

Organizers estimate about 14,000 people would pay the 4 percent millionaires tax, and that it would raise an additional $1.5 billion for the state, not accounting for inflation.

Because constitutional amendments follow a different path to the ballot, the earliest the question could go before voters would be November 2018. It must first win the support of at least 25 percent of lawmakers in two successive legislative terms.

The state constitution requires a flat income tax. In 1994, voters rejected by more than a 2-1 margin a proposed amendment calling for a graduated income tax rate.

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