Legislation Drafted To Overhaul Massachusetts Marijuana Law

Jun 14, 2017

     State legislators in Massachusetts plan to vote this week on legislation that would make extensive changes to the voter-approved marijuana law.

      The legislative overhaul of the 2016 ballot initiative would more than double the proposed tax on retail marijuana sales, give local elected officials the power to ban or restrict marijuana businesses, and reorganize the state oversight of both the recreational and medical marijuana industry, according to copies of the proposed bill posted online.

       Members of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy were scheduled to meet at noon today to vote on the bill,and it will be in front of the full House for a vote Thursday.

      Advocates for legalized marijuana in Massachusetts are furious over some of the proposed changes.

      The proposed legislation would tax marijuana at 28 percent. The voter-approved law set the total tax rate at 12 percent. 

    " 28 percent is excessive,excessive taxation," said   Dick Evans, a Northampton attorney who was chairman of the political committee that backed the 2016 referendum to legalize marijuana. He said the tax needs to be kept relatively low in order to eliminate the marijuana black-market.

     Another major proposed change would hand local elected officials, such as a city council or board of selectman, the power to ban marijuana businesses from a municipality.  The voter-approved law required a local referendum process to impose such prohibitions.

     Evans said changing that part of the law is a “serious mistake.”

    " It takes away the honest voice of the people that is heard only when they go into the privacy of a voting booth," he said.

    Municipal officials lobbied hard to get more control over marijuana growing and retail operations.

     Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, applauded the provisions in the draft legislation.

   "There is no other zoning matter that is dealt with by referendum. It is very inefficient, it slows the process down, it costs taxpayers money," said Beckwith in explaining why the organization urged legislators to give the decision-making process back to local officials.

    State oversight of marijuana would also be changed by the proposed legislation from what voters approved.   There would be a five-member commission with the governor and attorney general each getting a single appointment.   

    The voter-approved law envisioned a bureaucracy entirely under the office of the state treasurer, and patterned on how alcohol is regulated in Massachusetts.

    The pending bill would put the new commission in charge of medical marijuana, taking it out of the purview of the Department of Public Health.

   There would be no change to the parts of the law that allow home-growing of up to 12 plants per household and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. The legal age for marijuana use would remain 21.