Legal Marijuana in Massachusetts Finally Gets a Vote in Legislature

After negotiations that have stretched on for three weeks longer than policymakers had hoped, a six-member Massachusetts House and Senate conference committee has finally hashed out a version of the Commonwealth’s new marijuana law. It is expected to be approved by a vote on Wednesday and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk by the weekend.

Massachusetts was one of eight states to legalize marijuana last November, with voters approving legal marijuana for recreational use at the ballot box. It was a move that stunned opponents, including Gov. Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.

The marijuana bill will revise the version of marijuana legalization passed by voters, including raising state, local, and excise taxes on legal marijuana in Massachusetts to as high as 20%, a compromise between a Senate version that would have kept the maximum allowable tax at 12% established by voters, and the House version that would have levied a mandatory 28% tax on retail marijuana sales.

Massachusetts was one of eight states to legalize marijuana last November, with voters approving legal marijuana for recreational use at the ballot box.

The compromise will keep Massachusetts taxes on legal marijuana in line with other states that have legalized the sale and consumption of the plant and products made from it for recreational use, creating an economic tidal wave of job and earnings growth bigger than the dot-com boom of the early 2000s.

Another revision in the compromise bill employs an unusual mechanism for allowing local governments to ban retail marijuana stores in their jurisdictions:

“In cities and towns where voters backed the ballot question — which was the case in more than 260 of the states 351 communities — a referendum would be required to ban or restrict retail marijuana stores.

But in communities where a majority of residents voted against Question 4, pot shops could be barred by a simple vote of the board of the selectmen or city council, without the need for a vote of local residents.”

The bill makes no changes to the voter-approved amount of marijuana a consumer is legally allowed to possess, one ounce, and no changes to the legal limit of 12 marijuana plants per household for adults who want to grow their own plants at home.

Marijuana legalization activists were opposed to legislative revisions of the question voters approved in November, but were relieved Monday to learn that the compromise bill leaves out some of the revisions they considered most onerous.

Jim Borghesani, spokesman for Yes on 4, said: “We obviously wanted to see it move forward as passed by voters, but we’re not naive. We knew there was going to be a compromise of some kind.”

In the Norfolk County town of Randolph, Massachusetts, the local newspaper’s unscientific online poll shows visitors to Randolph.WickedLocal.com are mostly opposed to any changes to Question 4, with over 75% of the 367 respondents voting: “These changes are not what Massachusetts voters approved when they said ‘yes’ to legalizing pot in November.”

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