Reefer MAdness: Mass State Legislators Debate and Reshape Retail Marijuana Laws

November 8th, 2016 will forever be known as the day our world changed. We will all remember where we were when we saw the votes being tallied, when the news first broke. No, no, not the Presidential election (I’m still trying to pretend that never happened). I’m talking about Massachusetts Ballot Question 4. You know, the one that legalized recreational marijuana!

I’m sure there are plenty of people that got distracted before they could finish reading the ballot summary, so here’s a concentrated dosage: In general, marijuana initiatives are trying to have weed lawfully treated similar to alcohol. The measure passed in MA allows the “possession, use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana in limited amounts by persons age 21 and older.” It allows the possession of up to an ounce outside of your home, ten ounces inside your home, growing up to six plants, and the gifting of up to an ounce without payment. The date for the sections of personal use took effect on December 15th, 2016, as specified in the ballot question [1].


The original initiative made marijuana subject to state sales tax (6.25%), an additional excise tax of 3.75%, and local municipalities were given the option to add on another 2% tax. 12% isn’t too bad, considering the excise portion goes to the Marijuana Regulation fund to cover costs associated with the law. Even being in Tax-achusetts, 12% isn’tcrazy and is very close to those collected in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize and has a slightly smaller population than MA.

The largest part of this ballot question was the approval of retail marijuana, again, treated much like alcohol. A finite number of retailers would sell marijuana in certain areas, abiding by state and local laws. Many sections of the approved measure give power to cities and towns to dictate aspects of regulation and taxation on commercial marijuana. The retail portions, which includes taking in applications for marijuana distribution licenses, needed time to process and define the language, so they were set for January 1st, 2018. “Were” being the operative word because state legislators quickly voted in December to delay the sale of marijuana for another six months. This gives them plenty of time to change the law we all just voted for [TH-see you later, pot stores].

Yes, the parameters defined in the ballot are being “tinkered” with as we speak. Question 4 is back in the news the last couple weeks because the Massachusetts House and Senate are rewriting and voting on the measures of the new marijuana laws. I’m not saying they’re going to take away your mary jane, but they are definitely trying to make it different than the approved ballot measure.

The state Senate and House have taken up the task of hashing out and defining the laws that must be voted on before the July deadline. Debate is expected to be blazing and consuming, as many have a strong stance on the issue. The first version presented in the House last week was pulled due to procedural errors and concern over the elements of the bill. The bill strayed far from the measure approved by voters in November.


Originally, the decision to ban the sale of marijuana from a municipality was left to the voters. In the recently released House bill, the power was shifted from the voters to the board of selectmen (cuz when have voters ever made a good decision, right?) [2]. The ability of limiting marijuana licenses, approving cultivation centers, or banning retail altogether would be made by elected officials. The haziest part of the redesign involves the taxation of retail marijuana. The Senate bill aligns with the original initiative at a combined maximum 12% tax, with portions divided among the state, municipality, and regulatory funds. However, in the House bill the taxing would reach a head-spinning mandatory 28%! This would break down with a 6.25% state sales tax, a 16.75% state pot tax, and a mandatory 5% local tax that would go into city and town funds [3].

I expected the details to be worked out some, but more than doubling the tax rate would completely vaporize the attempt to undercut the illegal drug trade. Besides having the freedom to make our own decisions and enjoy a doobie after dinner, the goals of legalization are to loosen unjust laws and create a safe, regulated (and lucrative) industry that will end the dangers of the illegal marijuana trade. You don’t have to tell me that it’s natural and just a plant, I know. But when you have to pick up from some sketchy guy in a fast food parking lot, you don’t really know what you’re getting. By legalizing the cultivation of marijuana and rolling it up with an insane tax rate, there will be plenty of pot without people that are willing to legally buy it. Tah dahh, crime time.

Without an ounce of respect for the vote approved by the people, state legislators are gutting the ballot measure (I presume to sabotage the law). This bill and the coming legalization efforts will bring in millions and millions of tax revenue for the state the way it is designed. Luckily we can look to other states that have legalized and harvested the benefits. You can be against marijuana and pro-legalization, it’s easy. Just understand that people can make their own choices and it will be positive for the state economy, then just don’t smoke weed! But I digress… We as a democratic society voted and approved to legalize recreational marijuana with specified guidelines, now there are elected officials trying to take it back. So if you are pro-legalization because you know the benefits, look up the state representative for your district and see how they are working to shape the house bill over the next couple weeks!


Written By: CJ Wilcox (@CJWilcox7)

1: https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_Marijuana_Legalization,_Question_4_(2016)

2: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2017/06/19/recreational-marijuana-bill-house-senate-massachusetts-different-versions/

3: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/06/13/house-bill-rewrites-voter-pot-law/X2kYCeudbE2LKgpcJHdCEM/story.html

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed by this writer are solely his own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Couch Guy Sports, affiliates, or other contributors. Yeah, I’m surprised I can get away with it too.

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