Cannabis in Massachusetts
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Cannabis in Massachusetts relates to the legal and cultural events surrounding the use of cannabis. A century after becoming the first U.S. state to criminalize recreational cannabis, Massachusetts voters elected to legalize it in 2016.
In 2008 Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Massachusetts became the eighteenth state to legalize medical marijuana when voters passed a ballot in 2012, even though the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance with no medical value. Recreational marijuana is legal in Massachusetts as of December 15, 2016, following a ballot initiative in November of that year.
As of 2010 almost 10% of Massachusetts residents over the age of 12 had used marijuana in the past month, and almost 16% had used marijuana within the past year. The largest event for the support of the legalization of marijuana, the Boston Freedom Rally, takes place annually in September. People come from surrounding areas to attend this rally
Recreational marijuana is regulated and taxed but legal in Massachusetts, with retail sales from licensed dealers becoming legal on November 20th, 2018. Legalization occurred in staging, with decriminalization followed by legal medical marijuana before full legalization.
On November 4, 2008, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative made the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of $100 without the possessor being reported to the state’s criminal history board. Minors also had to notify their parents, take a drug awareness program, and complete 10 hours of community service. Before decriminalization, people charged faced up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
The proponents of the change argued that:
- The change would keep the existing policies regarding growing, trafficking, and driving under the influence of the drug, while protecting those caught from a tainted criminal record
- Massachusetts could save $130 million each year
- Convictions of less than one ounce have been shown to have little or no impact on drug use
The opponents argued that the decriminalization would:
- Promote use of the drug and protect dealers
- Increase violence
- Create hazardous workplaces
- Increase car crashes
The law went into effect January 2009.
On November 6, 2012, 63% of Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative. The law took effect on January 1, 2013, eliminating criminal and civil penalties for the possessions and use of up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for patients possessing a state issued registration card. With a recommendation by a physician, patients with cancer, glaucoma, and other medical conditions can receive a registration card. The law allows for 35 state-licensed non-profit dispensaries. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has until May 1, 2013 to issue further regulations. Marijuana dispensaries will not be able to open until after the regulations have been set. The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes the bill, saying there is no scientific proof that marijuana is safe and effective. After the law passed, towns attempted to ban dispensaries. Attorney General Martha M. Coakley ruled that cities and towns cannot ban dispensaries, and can only regulate them. Complete bans would conflict with the law.
In the November 8, 2016 election, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot initiative (Question 4) making recreational cannabis legal in the state.
Provisions for home use and cultivation went into effect on December 15, 2016. Individuals are allowed to possess and purchase up to one ounce at a time, and if driving it must be locked up and not openly visible. Each household can grow up to six plants, or twelve for those with more than one adult, but the plants cannot be visible from the street. Households can store up to ten ounces, or more if harvested from a home crop.
Smoking marijuana on public property, including parks and sidewalks, is illegal, as is smoking it while driving. An unlicensed sale (including barter) is illegal for the seller but not the buyer; giving away home-grown marijuana for free is allowed.
Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation on December 30, 2016 extending the start date for legal licensed recreational cannabis sales by six months, to July 2018.
Cities and towns have the power to require permits, block recreational stores from locating in certain areas (through zoning bylaws) or from locating in the municipality at all. However, the law mandates that a ban must be approved by a local referendum if the majority of voters in the municipality were in favor of the statewide Question 4; otherwise, the city council can approve a ban on its own. Applicants must also hold a community meeting and negotiate an agreement with the host municipality in order to get a state license. As of March 2018, 59 municipalities had enacted a permanent ban, and 130 had enacted a temporary moratorium (all of which end sometime in 2018).
Retail sales have a 10.75% excise tax on the marijuana, on top of the general 6.25% state sales tax, and up to a 3% local option tax, for a total of 17%-20% tax.
The first recreational license for cultivation only was granted on Jun 21, 2018, so no sales occurred on the first day of legalization, July 1. New licensees have to wait for approval before planting, so existing medical dispensaries that expand to recreational sales have a competitive advantage, but must also wait for recreational approval. Licensing of delivery services (other than for medical marijuana) was further delayed by the Cannabis Control Commission, as was that for on-site consumption.
The first two stores opened on November 20, 2018, in Northampton and Leicester, after testing labs had been approved and begun operations, and the stores received final sign-off. During the first week of sales, excluding Thanksgiving Day where both locations were closed, $2,217,621.13 in sales was sold between the 2 locations.
Bans and moratoriums by town
As of October 29, 2018, the following 179 towns have either a permanent ban (84) or a moratorium (95) currently in place on retail marijuana stores:
Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard
Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are islands which are separated from the mainland by federal waters. The state medical marijuana law requires a dispensary in every county; each island is its own county, but the problem of federal jurisdiction has created a legal hurdle to shipping mainland-grown product to the islands. State law requires marijuana grown on the island to be tested in state labs, which are located on the mainland, so crossing through federal jurisdiction is also a problem for growers.
Though the Steamship Authority is run by the state, anyone transporting marijuana by sea could be subject to arrest by the United States Coast Guard. Similar problems exist in transporting marijuana to and from islands in Hawaii and Washington State, but as of 2018 it appears the Coast Guard has not taken enforcement action against those legally possessing marijuana under state law, despite asserting it will do so.
The Federal Aviation Administration could terminate the license of a pilot knowingly transporting marijuana, but there is some legal question as to whether air transport of marijuana authorized by state law is acceptable under an FAA regulation with ambiguous wording. The Transportation Security Administration does not have the legal authority to enforce federal law, only to protect the security of aircraft. Illegal drugs found by TSA at airport security checkpoints (which are not in the scope of what they are searching for in the first place) are referred to local law enforcement; in Massachusetts possession of under one ounce is legal, so state police will take no action.  People transporting marijuana by plane are subject to arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Air Marshal Service, though in practice minor violations are typically referred to local law enforcement.
|% support||% opposition||% Undecided/Don’t Know|
|Western New England University||October 23–November 2, 2016||417 LV||± 4.5%||61%||34%||5%|
|Suffolk University/The Boston Globe||October 24–26, 2016||500 LV||± 4.4%||48.8%||42.4%||8.8%|
|WBUR/MassINC Polling Group||October 13–16, 2016||502 LV||± 4.4%||55%||40%||5%|
|Western New England University||September 24–October 3, 2016||403 LV||± 5.0%||52%||42%||6%|
|467 RV||± 5.0%||55%||39%||6%|
|WBZ/UMass Amherst||September 15–20, 2016||700 LV||± 4.3%||53%||40%||7%|
|800 RV||± 4.1%||51%||40%||9%|
|WBUR/MassINC Polling Group||September 7–10, 2016||506 LV||± 4.4%||50%||45%||5%|
|Gravis Marketing/Jobs First||July 12–13, 2016||901 RV||± 3.3%||41%||51%||9%|
|Suffolk University/The Boston Globe||May 2–5, 2016||500 LV||± 4.4%||43.0%||45.8%||11%|
|Western New England University ||April 1–10, 2016||497 RV||± 4%||57%||35%||7%|
|UMass Amherst/WBZ||February 19–25, 2016||891 RV||± 4.1%||53%||40%||7%|
|Emerson College||October 16–18, 2015||629 RV||± 3.9%||40.5%||47.6%||11.9%|
|The Boston Globe||June 22–24/June 29-July 1, 2014||601 LV||± 4%||48%||47%||5%|
|WBUR/MassINC Polling Group||May 16–18, 2014||504 LV||± 4.4%||49%||42%||9%|
|WBUR/MassINC Polling Group||March 14–16, 2014||500 LV||± 4.4%||48%||41%||10%|
|Boston Herald/Suffolk University||January 29-February 3, 2014||600 LV||± 4.0%||53.17%||37.17%||9.67%|
|Western New England University||November 5-November 11, 2013||467 RV||± 4.5%||39%||52%||9%|
Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used in the United States. A 2007 survey showed that over 100 million US citizens over the age of 12 have used marijuana. More teenagers are current users of marijuana than cigarettes. The following chart shows percentages of Massachusetts’ population’s marijuana usage using data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration based on surveys from 2010 and 2011.
Assessing the total cultivation of marijuana in the United States was difficult, and even more difficult by a statewide basis due to the illegality of the drug. In the ballot of 2016, growing and cultivating the plant was legalized. In 2006 it was estimated that there was 22 million pounds of domestic crop. Including the imported crop from Mexico and Canada, Dr. Jon Gettman estimates there is approximately $100 billion worth of crop available in the United States. Gettman’s study, Marijuana Production in the United States, shows that Massachusetts ranks 44th marijuana cultivation by state, producing 12,700 lbs. of marijuana worth $20 million.
The Boston Freedom Rally is an annual event on the third Saturday in September. It is the second largest annual gathering demanding marijuana law reform in the United States. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition organizes the event. The event began in 1989, and has been held on the Boston Common since 1992. The city of Boston has tried to stop the event, but has been unable to do so.
- Cannabis in Oregon
- Cannabis in California
- Cannabis in the United States
- Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative
- Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative
- Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition
- Law of Massachusetts
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