It was 1911. The New England Watch and Ward Society (née the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice) was battling against drugs and other “special evils.” And in April of that year, the group’s leaders successfully petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to outlaw possession of several “hypnotic drugs,” including cannabis.
One hundred five years, seven months, and 16 days later — Thursday — marijuana became legal again in Massachusetts.
The Governor’s Council, a Colonial-era body that vets judges and accepts election tabulations, on Wednesday formally certified the results of a ballot question that allows Massachusetts marijuana for recreational use.
The initiative passed last month with 1.8 million people voting for Massachusetts marijuana , despite the opposition of top politicians, the Catholic Church, doctors and business groups, and an array of other civic leaders. About 1.5 million people voted against it.
Perhaps the loudest voices opposed to the measure came from law enforcement. But on Wednesday, police were learning how to enforce what one top public safety official called “a complex web” of rules for licensed and unlicensed sellers, for those who sell Massachusetts marijuana for profit and those who give it away.
Even as pot remains illegal under federal law, possession, use, and home-growing are now allowed under state law for adults 21 and over.
But public consumption of the drug remains forbidden in Massachusetts, as do several related activities, such as smoking weed anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. It will also be illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, though there is no cannabis equivalent in the law to the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit.
Selling pot, too, remains outlawed until the state treasurer sets up a regulated marketplace and licenses retail stores. The law sets a January 2018 time frame for pot shops to open, creating a legal gray zone until then — buying up to an ounce of pot from a dealer is legal, but the dealer is breaking the law.
The Massachusetts measure is part of a national trend. Voters here were joined on Nov. 8 by those in Maine, California, and Nevada. The people of Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, Alaska, and the District of Columbia also voted to legalize marijuana in recent years.
The final step in the journey to being law in Massachusetts came at Wednesday’s session of the Governor’s Council, usually a pro forma acceptance of the election results.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito gaveled in the meeting. And with a chorus of “ayes” from the councilors, the legalization measure — along with the results of other elections — became law.
After the vote was certified, Jennie L. Caissie, a Republican councilor, stood up and said she couldn’t in good conscience certify the result. Her speech had no legal bearing, however.
For legalization advocates, the stroke of midnight Thursday represented the culmination of a long twilight struggle that was met with dismissal for decades, but increasing acceptance in recent years.