By Bob Katzen
The House 136-11, Senate 32-6, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a conference committee compromise version of a bill changing some provisions and adding other provisions to the law, approved by voters on the 2016 ballot, legalizing the possession, growing and sale of marijuana. The House and Senate several weeks ago had approved different versions of the bill.
The measure taxes all marijuana sales with a 10.75 percent excise tax, 6.25 percent state sales tax and a local option allowing cities and towns to impose an additional tax of up to 3 percent. In addition, any agreement between a retail marijuana establishment and a host community for the first five years may include a community impact fee of up to another 3 percent paid by the seller to the city or town to cover the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the establishment. Medical marijuana remains tax-free.
If a city or town voted against for the 2016 marijuana ballot question, the decision to prohibit or restrict marijuana establishments will be determined by the municipality’s governing body until December 2019. If a municipality approved the ballot initiative, the decision can only be made through a local city or town wide referendum.
Other key provisions of the new law include:
Allowing persons over 21 to give an ounce or less of marijuana to others; possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home and ten ounces in their home. Any quantity above one ounce in the home must be under lock and key.
Allowing each person to grow six plants per person in his or her home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
Prohibiting plants that can be visible by neighbors or from a public place and putting growing areas under lock and key.
Giving landlords the right to prohibit smoking or growing of marijuana on their properties.
Allowing advertising on TV, radio, billboard, print or the Internet only in markets where at least 85 percent of the audience is over 21.
Banning retail shops from being located near school zones.
Jim Borghesani, Director of Communications for “Yes on 4,” the group that led the campaign to legalize marijuana said that he favors the lower 12 percent tax that voters approved and noted that while the final 20 percent tax is higher than he wanted, it is not nearly as high as the House’s original 28 percent tax.
“We have said all along that the law passed by voters last November needed no fixes or improvement,” said Borghesani. “But the Legislature decided to change it, and we fought hard to ensure that the changes respected the will of the voters as much as possible. The final bill, thanks to the Senate’s moderate approach, did not include the damaging components of the House approach.”
“A total tax rate of up to 20 percent is necessary to help regulate this new industry and to address inevitable challenges, primarily the increased exposure of marijuana to young people, ” said Rep. Rona Mariano (D-Quincy). “The black market will be searching for new customers and this bill calls for increased funding for early intervention services and public awareness campaigns, and provides significant barriers to prevent children of our communities from being indoctrinated into this market by advertising campaigns aimed to attract them.”
“I don’t think in five years, 10 years, or 20 years from now, we’re going to look back on this decision to legalize marijuana and think it was the best decision for Massachusetts,” said Sen. Donald Humason (R-Westfield). “We’re already starting to see questions about implementation and legal implications, so I anticipate we’ll see some buyer’s remorse on this question down the road.”
“We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess and use marijuana,” said Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. “This bill increases public health and safety protections, and specifies ways to prevent products from appealing to young people. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.”
Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) said she couldn’t support the bill because it did not include a substance abuse fund to combat the opioid epidemic and to pay for overall substance abuse prevention, education, treatment and recovery initiatives. She noted that the House leadership proposed raising taxes on marijuana to 28 percent, higher than what was passed on the ballot, citing the need to create such a fund.
“When the final bill reached the floor, however, the bill had no substance abuse fund included but still raised the tax from 12 percent that voters approved to 20 percent,” said DiZoglio. “The additional marijuana revenue that was supposed to be used for a substance abuse fund will now instead be subject to appropriation and directed to the General Fund.”
How our local lawmakers voting
(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)
Rep. Christine Barber Yes
Rep. Mike Connolly Yes
Rep. Denise Provost Yes
Sen. Patricia Jehlen Yes