Massachusetts citizens have the ability today to vote on three state-wide ballot questions that will shape the way the state deals with marijuana, end-of-life care and availability of automobile records.
The first question is the “Right to Repair” focuses on the availability of diagnostic information that automobile manufacturers must make available to independent mechanics.
The second, “Death with Dignity,” allows citizens to vote on whether or not doctors will be able to prescribe medicine that would allow terminally ill patients to kill themselves.
The third ballot question addresses whether or not the commonwealth should legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Massachusetts ballot question 1, “Right to Repair,” is an uncompromised version of a law that was passed by the state house over the summer. The initiative argues for a law change to be made that requires automobile manufacturers to make diagnostic information available to citizens and independent auto repair shops in an effort to level competition between dealerships and authorized repair shops and independent mechanic shops.
Supporters of the initiative, like AAA of the Pioneer Valley and host of NPR’s radio program Car Talk, Ray Magliozzi, argue that the law would allow for independent shops and consumers to access information that has previously been restricted to dealerships and manufacturers have, making car repairs safer and reducing the level competition.
Opponents of the initiative argue that auto repair shops already have the information they need and more specifically that since a similar law was passed over the summer there is no need to have two laws that will conflict.
One serviceman at Amherst’s College Street Motors, has mixed feelings on the ballot question and no strong opinion on whether or not it is passed. He said that if it is passed it may slow down the changes that will come in to effect under the previously passed law, however he thinks it may also be good to amend certain aspects of the law.
A yes vote requires manufacturers to release information to consumers and independent repair facilities, while a no vote changes nothing and leaves the laws as is.
The second question on the ballot has drawn the most debate, controversy and television commercials on both sides. The initiative is titled “Death with Dignity” and it would allow for “physicians licensed in Massachusetts to prescribe medication, at the request of a terminally-ill patient meeting certain conditions, to end that person’s life,” as it is currently worded on the ballot.
The cognitive ability of the patient to make the decision and fact that the patient is actually terminally ill both must be reviewed by a second doctor before there can be a prescription for a lethal dosage of the medication. A blood relative is allowed to participate in assisting the patient with taking the medication if there is a witness present.
Steven Crawford, communication director for the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Coalition, the main group in support of the initiative, argued that a person should have the right to make this decision themselves.
“Question 2 is all about individual choice, it will allow a person nearing death, facing intolerable suffering, to request medication a doctor to alleviate that suffering,” Crawford said in a telephone interview.
He said the proposed law is similar to laws that currently exist in other states and that people should vote yes because they want the ability to make a decision over their own death, for their family to make decisions for themselves.
He said the proposed law has “abundant safeguards” will “move Massachusetts forward in the care of the terminally ill.”
Opponents of question 2, like the group “No on Question 2”, argue that the proposed law is poorly written, immoral and liable for abuse.
No on Question 2 spokesman John Kelly said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the ballot question will not pass.
“This question addresses how we get along with each other … [how people] think about society, not themselves,” he said during a phone interview.
Kelly said that this initiative would “pull families apart, rather than bring them closer” if passed. He said that they are advocating voting against this initiative to help the elderly, who would be affected by the law change the most, and because the determents of the proposed law outweigh the benefits.
A yes vote would change the law and allow for assisted death where as a no vote would not change any laws.
Ballot question 3 would allow for the legalization of medical marijuana. The initiative states that, if enacted, it would eliminate “state criminal and civil penalties related to the medical use of marijuana, allowing patients meeting certain conditions to obtain marijuana produced and distributed by new state-regulated centers.”
The law could also allow for patients to grow marijuana themselves in special cases and limits the amount of dispensaries to 35 across the state.
Criticism of the ballot question has mostly come against this specific law and its wording versus the concept of medical marijuana itself.
The Boston Herald argued against question 3 in an October editorial saying that the newspaper was “taking [its] guidance from the Massachusetts Medical Society, which opposes Question 3 because the safety and efficacy of marijuana as a prescription for pain have not been adequately proven. Pain is a terrible thing for the truly sick, but this ballot question isn’t the answer.”
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg told the Hampshire Gazette that he supports medical marijuana but that the proposed legislation needs some work.
He said that he would want to limit what medical conditions marijuana could be used for in order to avoid the “unnecessary worry and concern to the public that … creating an open-ended situation like exists in California and Colorado.”
In June the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of a case to rewrite the initiative because the wording was confusing to voters. It was written so that now a yes vote would remove laws forbidding the legalization of medical marijuana, and put structures in to place to allow the prescription of marijuana with specific regulations while a no vote would change nothing.
Some of the most significant changes in Massachusetts have come from the voting booth rather than Beacon Hill.
While legislative bodies frequently draw criticism from voters for doing nothing, being partisan and over compromising, initiatives and referendums give any Massachusetts voter the ability to weigh in and vote on a topic themselves.
Direct popular votes on Massachusetts ballot initiatives and referendums have changed social laws such as the 1994 decision to open retail stores on Sunday or far-reaching finance laws like 1980’s passage of Proposition 2 1/2 which changed how towns and schools receive funding and how citizens are taxed.
Sam Hayes can be reached at email@example.com.