Healey to decide legality of proposed ballot questions, including ones on pot legalization



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FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2015, file photo, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey speaks with members of the media after testifying before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in Boston. Healey is scheduled to issue rulings Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, on the constitutionality of more than 30 initiative petitions. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)


BOSTON — Supporters of proposals ranging from the legalization of recreational marijuana use to improving conditions for farm animals are awaiting word from Attorney General Maura Healey on whether they can push ahead with efforts to place the measures before Massachusetts voters.

Healey is scheduled to issue rulings Wednesday on the constitutionality of more than 30 initiative petitions. Other measures call for expanding charter schools, making public records more accessible, legalizing fireworks sales and lowering tobacco taxes.

Certification by Healey would allow backers to begin the arduous task of collecting tens of thousands of signatures needed to bring their proposed questions closer to the 2016 state ballot. But if she determines a measure failed to pass constitutional muster it would all but stop supporters in their tracks.

Four questions were submitted by two separate groups seeking to allow adult recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts. Healey opposes marijuana legalization, but her decision on whether to allow any question to go forward must rest solely on legal and not philosophical grounds.

Voters in 2012 approved a law allowing pot to be used for certain medical conditions.

A petition filed by a coalition of animal rights groups aims to effectively prohibit farm animals such as breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens from being confined to small cages or crates where they are barely able to move. Supporters of the measure call the practice "torture," but a group representing farmers says nearly all producers in Massachusetts already conform to higher standards.

Once a question is certified by the attorney general, sponsors must gather at least 64,750 signatures by Nov. 28. If the Legislature fails to adopt the question by May 3, sponsors must gather another 10,792 signatures to secure a spot on the November ballot.

If Healey rejects a question, the petitioners could challenge her ruling in court — as gambling opponents did when former Attorney General Martha Coakley ruled that a proposal to repeal the state's 2011 casino law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Judicial Court ultimately allowed the question to go on the ballot, but voters defeated it last November

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