In what many considered an upset, almost 1.7 million voters said ‘yes’ to Question 4, legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts approved the regulation and taxation of legal cannabis by a count of 54 percent to 46 percent, making it the first state on the Eastern side of the country to take legalization further than medical (Maine followed suit, though it wasn’t officially declared until Wednesday morning).
Adults over the age of 21 will be able to legally possess up to ten ounces of marijuana in their homes and one ounce outside of their residence. The new marijuana laws will go into effect across Massachusetts on December 15, 2016. With states like Massachusetts and California passing legalization measures, President Obama’s comments questioning the tenability of federal prohibition going forward may ring true after all.
Just moments following the official announcement that Question 4 had passed, Massachusetts State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, the only high-ranking voice on Beacon Hill to openly support recreational legalization, issued a proclamation to the Commonwealth.
“The voters have spoken on legalization,” Rosenberg stated. “I look forward to swiftly implementing their will and working with Governor Baker and Speaker DeLeo to create a best-in-the-nation law that protects public safety while respecting the wishes of the voters.”
Now that Massachusetts has legalized cannabis, what comes next?
Not everyone in Massachusetts is thrilled about Question 4. Governor Charlie Baker, a strong opponent of Question 4, along with the rest of the Massachusetts Legislature, has the ability to rework some of the measure. Joining the Republican Governor in calling Question 4 broken are many elected state officials who have fought long and hard against marijuana legalization.
The opposition’s issues with the measure are primarily financial, though they mostly focused on how dangerous the law is for Massachusetts children throughout the campaign. Many opponents of legalization in the state claim the excise tax on marijuana products is far too low. Under the currently-approved law, retail sales of marijuana in any form will be taxed at a rate of 3.75 percent. This new tax supplements the preexisting 6.25 percent Massachusetts sales tax, for a grand total of 10 percent added to the bottom line for cannabis consumers. Individual cities and towns in Massachusetts have the option of charging up to an additional 2 percent on top of the state’s 10 percent cut.
Maine’s new marijuana measure also spells out a 10 percent tax on marijuana, which means both New England states opted for miniscule tax figures compared to Colorado (28 percent) or Washington (37 percent). California falls slightly higher than Massachusetts on the tax bracket, as the fellow newly-minted recreational state will levy a 15 percent sales tax on retail cannabis products.
One section of the new Massachusetts marijuana law that flew under the radar relates to one of our Nation’s oldest and most reliable resources — hemp. The entire industrial hemp industry is celebrating, as Massachusetts farmers will be able to cultivate, process, distribute, and sell the highly versatile crop, which can be used to manufacture everyday essentials like fabric, ink, and biofuel.
Going forward, the law spells out the creation of a three-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to lead regulation efforts and conduct oversight on the state’s marijuana industry. Massachusetts State Treasurer Deb Goldberg, who was against Question 4, has until March 1, 2017 to appoint the three inaugural CCC members. There will also be an advisory board established to assist the trio of cannabis commissioners.
Standalone retail marijuana stores could open as soon as 2018, though existing medical dispensaries in the state will have the first shot at recreational licenses. Question 4 allows the CCC to give preference to the experienced “operating medical marijuana treatment centers” before offering the highly-coveted licenses to hopeful recreational applicants in the form of a lottery.
Though Massachusetts residents looking to buy legal weed right away may be disappointed with the proposed timeline for retail shops, it’s important to note that Colorado took a similar approach. “Yes on 4” Campaign Manager Will Luzier reassured MA residents that the Rocky Mountain State voted to legalize marijuana in 2012 but didn’t facilitate their first commercial sale until the beginning of 2014.
“It’s the exact same timeline we have here,” Luzier said.
We spoke with notable Massachusetts cannabis activist Dr. Keith Saunders about his state’s landmark vote, and he gave the following statement:
“It is most gratifying to see the people of Massachusetts decide to take a new approach to our existing marijuana market by bringing it above-board, and instituting producer and consumer protection measures. It will be a boon to our state’s economy, will produce thousands of new tax-paying jobs, and promote personal freedom. It is clear that criminal marijuana prohibition was an abject failure.”
Cover Image Courtesy of Allie Beckett