Massachusetts will consider taxing and regulating marijuana
Last update: January 6, 2016
One way or another, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will seriously consider ending marijuana prohibition in 2016.
In March 2015, Rep. Dave Rogers (D-Belmont) and Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) introduced H.1561, a bill that would regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol for legal use by adults. A bipartisan group of 13 co-sponsors has signed on in support. Unfortunately, Gov. Charlie Baker has said he will oppose legalization.
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 very 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.
Most Bay State voters already 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; one finally opens in June 2015
On November 6, 2012, 63% of Bay State voters approved Question 3, making their state the 18th to enact a compassionate medical marijuana program. More than two years later — long after deadlines had passed — the Department of Public Health allowed the first dispensary to begin cultivating on December 31, 2014. The first dispensary opened in Salem on June 24, 2015, and four dispensaries were open by the end of 2015.
Question 3 called for up to 35 dispensaries (more if deemed necessary by regulators), but only 15 dispensary applicants were selected by the department in 2014. In June 2015, the department announced that it would scrap its controversial scoring system for applicants and that it would instead begin considering applications on a rolling basis. Over 150 dispensary applicants are currently involved in the process of seeking state approval.
Meanwhile, patients have been able to apply for ID cards since October 2014. The registration is mandatory: Unregistered patients are no longer afforded any protection from being arrested. If you are a patient, click here to visit the Department of Public Health’s website, where you may begin the application process.
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.
To stay updated on the status of marijuana policy reform in Massachusetts, be sure to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service.