Merely hours after polls closed on Nov. 8, 2016, leaders on Beacon Hill started talking about ways they might alter the ballot question that made marijuana legal for adult use in Massachusetts. In December, without notifying all members, a couple of lawmakers voted to delay the beginning of retail sales. Now, as a fresh session commences, Senate and the House leaders have filed dozens of bills that will make important changes in the recreational marijuana law.
Here is a summary of key points in bills filed by Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Hannah Kane.
Possession: It’s now legal to have up to 1 oz of marijuana in public and up to 10 oz at home. Bills filed by Lewis and Kane would keep the public limitation of up to 1 oz, but at home, the limitation would fall from 10 oz to to 2 oz.
Home growing: It’s now legal to grow up to six plants as an individual with a limitation of 12 per household. The bills would cut the total permitted in a single home to six plants.
Sales: The initial law said sales could start on Jan. 1, 2018. The Legislature has already delayed that start date to July 2018. The brand new legislation proposes a further two year moratorium on the manufacture and sale of edibles and concentrates. The sale of flower or buds could still commence in July 2018.
Local control: The present law says that unless voters pass a referendum that prohibits local sales, municipalities must permit marijuana shops. The planned change would let members of town council or a city — or voters at a town meetings — approve a prohibition without holding a special election.
Cannabis Control Commission (CCC): The CCC is a three member body under the present law, appointed by and under the supervision of the state treasurer. Kane and Lewis would make the CCC a five member independent entity, like the Gaming Commission.
Drugged driving: The proposition would be to add language that would require drivers suspected of driving under the influence to submit to field sobriety tests or face arrest. Furthermore, legislation says the state should explore establishing a THC threshold for impairment, much like the 0.08 standard for alcohol.
Taxes: There appears to be widespread agreement that the Legislature will increase the 3.75 percent excise tax on marijuana included in the ballot question. Quite a few bills filed by the legislators on this particular subject, several of which call for more study of a suitable rate. Lawmakers say there’s disagreement about whether the state should earn money off the sale of marijuana or simply cover the expenses of executing and analyzing the effects of the law.
Clear records: Lewis’ bill says anyone fined or detained for less than 1 oz could petition the court to have their record expunged.
Supporters of the recreational marijuana law vowed to fight against most of these changes.
“People are viewing this as an actual assault on Question 4, a significant revision of a new law that was passed by 54 percent of the voters,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Yes on 4 coalition. “People are extremely worried concerning the extent of the legislation.”
Rep. Kane said this isn’t an effort to invalidate the will of the voters.
“I don’t have a philosophical concern with legalization,” Kane said. “What I have attempted to do here is to ensure that we’ve taken into consideration some of the public health, public safety and local control concerns that we had when talking to people about the ballot question.”
Sen. Lewis said he does not believe Massachusetts voters meant to approve all the details of the ballot question, such as how many plants would be legal at home or the number of commission members.
“What I believe the people voted for was to make it legal and safe to possess, use, buy, sell and cultivate marijuana,” Lewis said. “Everything I’ve filed in the bills is consistent with that.”