Substance Use

Medical Marijuana Legislation Dispensary Moratoriums in Massachusetts

Kelly Socia
Assistant Professor of Criminology and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Key Findings

  • The enactment of moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts was done based on local voter support, not based on demographic characteristics of the municipality as a whole (race, age or socioeconomic status).
  • Views of the politically motivated (i.e. those who showed up to vote) had a more powerful influence on moratorium enactment than either municipal characteristics or the findings of national polling on medical marijuana.


In the article, “Up in Smoke: The Passage of Medical Marijuana Legislation and Enactment of Dispensary Moratoriums in Massachusetts,” Socia and his co-author sought to fill the knowledge gap surrounding the voting for medical marijuana in Massachusetts and the subsequent enactment of local moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries. The authors assessed demographic data from all 351 Massachusetts municipalities, including data gathered from the 2010 U.S. Census and voting data from the 2012 election. The study found that the enactment of moratoriums on dispensaries in Massachusetts was based more on voter support of this issue, and not on demographic characteristics of the municipality as a whole (such as age, race, and socioeconomic status). The authors also found that political leaders mayhave been responding pragmatically to local votes on this issue, rather than to some broader conceptualization of public opinion on the matter. This research offers insights that may have implications for related criminal justice and public health efforts, such as the placement of drug treatment centers, methadone clinics, and halfway houses, based on local voter interest in the topic. It also may be useful when considering future changes to drug policy, such as legalizing the possession of syringes, decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, or full marijuana legalization.

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