Last Update: November 12, 2014

Massachusetts will consider taxing and regulating marijuana

One way or another, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will seriously consider ending marijuana prohibition within two years.

In November 2014, voters in 14 districts set the stage for meaningful reform when they approved non-binding ballot questions indicating support for making marijuana legal. The legislature will have an opportunity to heed the call of voters in 2015, but it is likely they will fail to act. In that case, MPP has announced that it plans to support a ballot initiative — led by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts — that will give Bay Staters an opportunity to end prohibition themselves in the November 2016 election.

The legislature has given some consideration to this idea. On April 24, 2014, the Joint Committee on Judiciary listened to testimony on H.1632, a bill that would have made marijuana legal for adults. MPP’s Matt Simon submitted testimony and appeared on the Boston FOX affiliate making the case for sensible marijuana regulation. However, the bill did not advance.

Most Bay State voters are ahead of politicians and believe marijuana should be legal. A Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll released in February 2014 found that 53% of likely Massachusetts voters “favor … the legalization of marijuana.” Only 37% were opposed. Please ask your legislators to support this sensible proposal!

Fifteen dispensaries approved, some expected to open in late 2014

On November 6, 2012, 63% of Bay State voters approved Question 3, making their state the 18th to enact a compassionate medical marijuana program. The Department of Public Health held listening sessions throughout the state and crafted rules to implement the law in 2013. Although the department failed to meet its deadlines for implementing the law, patients have been able to apply for ID cards since October 2014. The registration is mandatory: Unregistered patients will not have any protection from arrest beginning on February 1, 2015. If you are a patient, click here to visit the Department of Public Health’s website, where you may begin the application process. 

On January 31, 2014, the Department of Public Health announced that it had granted preliminary approval to 20 non-profit dispensaries, but after a more detailed review of applications, on June 27, the department announced that it had rejected nine of those applications. Only 11 dispensary applicants
were issued certificates allowing them to move forward with their plans. Four additional dispensary applications were approved in November, including one in Boston, bringing the total to 15.

The first dispensaries could open as soon as late 2014. The applicants who were rejected may reapply next year, as Question 3 calls for up to 35 dispensaries to be located in the state.

You can read our summary of Massachusetts' medical marijuana law here.

Marijuana laws in Massachusetts

Although possession of under an ounce of marijuana is punishable by a civil fine of $100 in Massachusetts, pursuant to an initiative campaign led by MPP in 2008, the prohibition of marijuana has plenty of opportunity costs. Time spent enforcing marijuana laws could better be used to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of serious and violent crime. According to data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, in 2012, the clearance rate for murder in Massachusetts was 47.9%; for rape and burglary, the clearance rates were 24.9% and 10.2%, respectively.

Additionally, new evidence suggests that Massachusetts’ marijuana laws are not being evenly enforced. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in Massachusetts are 3.9 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Please email your legislators and ask them to consider a more sensible alternative.

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