The Marijuana Compromise

Read the full text of the conference report here.

We’ve finally reached agreement on a marijuana bill.  I hope that most voters will feel that the language improves on what the majority approved last November while fundamentally respecting the majority’s intentions.

First, to highlight some things that the compromise bill does not do:

As to local voter approval, the compromise does provide that if a community voted against the ballot question last November and local officials want to implement the expressed will of their community by imposing a ban on marijuana establishments, they can do so between now and 2019 without going to the voters a second time.  This affects 91 communities comprising 28% of state’s population.

Second, to highlight the major things the compromise bill does do:

As to regulatory structure and scope,

  • Broadens the governance of the new state regulatory agency, the Cannabis Control Commission, by dividing the appointing authority among the state’s top elected officials.
  • Fills out “boilerplate” powers, duties and procedures for the CCC that were absent in the ballot question language.
  • Strengthens public health protections – the ballot language gave the CCC the authority to regulate advertising, packaging and labelling and to require purity testing, but the compromise bill provides much stronger and more specific direction to the CCC.
  • Defines research questions to be answered by the CCC in the course of implementation.
  • Consolidates the regulation of adult recreational marijuana and medical marijuana under the single new authority, moves the medical marijuana language approved by the voters in 2012 to a new statutory home as Chapter 94I, while preserving the approved language and regulations issued under it.  Previously, this language was not properly codified.  There are a few minor changes, mostly to clarify and streamline procedures for patients.

As to local control,

  • Clarifies procedures for local ballot questions limiting the number of marijuana establishments and adds new language to assure that zoning and other regulations will not be used to evade the requirement of voter approval for numeric limits.
  • Caps the fees that municipalities can charge prospective licensees at 3% of gross sales – the ballot question included no cap.

As to criminal liability,

  • Makes certain possessory offenses civil that remained criminal under the ballot question
  • Adds language assuring that people with prior convictions for possession under the old laws can have their records sealed.
  • Add language intended to direct benefits of the new law to communities that were impacted by enforcement under the old law.

Other measures,

Finally, the compromise does increase the excise tax on marijuana from 3.75% to 10.75%.  It also bumps up the excise that municipalities may add from 2% to 3%.  So together with the state sales tax of 6.25%, the maximum tax goes from 12% to 20%.

That total tax still appears to be among the lowest in the nation and should not, in itself, be a barrier to expansion of the legal market.  I came to peace with the tax increase when it dawned on me that it would give both state and local regulators stronger incentives to actively support expansion.

The compromise reached by negotiators from the House and Senate is subject to final approval in each branch later this week.

I’m hopeful that with these changes, we will be on our way to a well-regulated market in marijuana products that will replace our dangerous and destructive illegal market.

FAQ links:

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

94 replies on “The Marijuana Compromise”

  1. I like how you buried the tax increase until the end of the document. This was not what the voters passed last November.

  2. It’s about time that marijuana became legal. Everything gets taxed; it’s better than going to prison. I went to prison for sale of marijuana for two years. It’s about time.

  3. More than triple the excise tax does not appear to be a COMPROMISE! No wonder we are labeled Taxachusetts. Would the legislature triple the tax on alcohol? I’d wager not.

  4. I voted for this: Taxes
    The law implemented the following taxes for recreational marijuana:[4]

    3.75 percent of the total sales tax state excise tax on the sale of marijuana products done by retailers other than marijuana establishments.
    A local sales tax option for sale of marijuana done by a retailer operating within the locality. The tax could be no more than 2 percent of the total sales price received by the retailer.
    Revenue generated by these taxes would be deposited in the Marijuana Regulation Fund.[4]
    Not what was renegotiated after the vote. Just saying this all seems very fishy to me.

  5. A very reasonable bill – in so many respects, it adheres to the ballot question passed by voters, and even strengthens it in regard to lowering criminal penalties – and a very smart and sensible compromise on local control; to wit, if you live in a city or town that voted for it, it takes a vote of the people to impose a ban; if you live in a town that voted against it, your local legislative body can vote for a ban — makes total sense — as for tax rate, it’s good that the local option tax is going up and in fact many entrepreneurs who seek to enter this new legal marketplace are experiencing significant local resistance– by sweetening the pot (pardon the pun) and allowing municipalities to obtain greater revenue, it will make some communities think twice before they irrationally reject allowing these businesses to open in their community — thanks for your service on a difficult assignment

  6. Thank you for crafting a fair and balanced comprehensive compromise bill.

    I hope there are provisions to encourage the most efficient use of electric power as possible in there as well, with some teeth to the DOER to regulate.

  7. Will,
    Congratulations. Overall this seems positive. I would have preferred that the voters’ preference on taxation be preserved. I hope you are right that the higher tax rate will not undermine the legal market.

  8. Thank you for all your work! Looks like a great start! Let’s get these business up and running so they can make money for themselves and the state!

  9. Thanks Will, Sounds like a reasonable compromise.

    I would have liked the tax cap to be lower. I am presuming that the combination of its being legal and the belief that this will drive down the price of illegal pot enough to make the illegal market disappear, makes this compromise possible to defend.

    I support the deal.


  10. I’ll start off by saying I’m not a regular marijuana consumer, so although I wholeheartedly support the decriminalization, none of this will likely ever directly impact me. That aside, you had me thinking this was a pretty good compromise right up until the end when you got to the taxes part. The way I see it, there were really two things that were being decided in the version passed by the voters. First, decriminalization of small amounts for personal possession, and second, the tax rate. At the end of the day those are the tangible items that really matter, not who would be responsible for regulating the industry or really any of the other logistical matters. Frankly, for the legislature to come along and make a decision to not only increase but MORE THAN DOUBLE the tax rate approved by voters without any public approval is a huge slap in the face, and a dangerous precedence to set. What’s to say next time we’re voting on a tax matter that the legislature won’t say “you know what, we know that you approved 4%, but we like nice round numbers, so we’re going to make it 10%”? Finally, hasn’t anyone considered that by more than doubling the tax for legal purchases you may be encouraging people to purchase from, let’s say, “less than reputable” sources, effectively depriving the state of ANY tax money from that sale and doing nothing to cut down on or eliminate the illegal marijuana trade in the state?

    I support everything you said up until the tax increase. This was a huge overstep of the legislature and I cannot support this component of the ‘compromise’.

    1. Fair enough. The Senate was at 12 and the House was 28, so 20 is a compromise down the middle between the branches. And, to repeat a comment from above: I want a successful lawful market to emerge. I made my peace with the tax increase when I came to feel that the greatest risk to that goal was not the tax level (most states are higher than what we ended up with), but the possibility that state and local officials would drag their feet. Giving them fiscal incentives to get the licenses out the door will serve the goal of building the lawful market.

  11. Thanks for your work on this, Will.
    Looking forward to reading through the bill at length later today,but your diligence in this entire process deserves applause. Thank you!

  12. I’m disappointed tat the legislature still feels the need to violate the will of the voters with this tax scheme. The legislature should be replaced due to its failure to listen to the voters. 20% sales tax will ensure the continuation of the black market in for drugs.

    1. I understand and I started from the same place. But I don’t think there is evidence that 20% is too high. The real issue is availability. We need to get the licenses out there and taxes will help do that.

    2. Why must you persecute us – the cannabis community – with a 20% tax, while alcohol drinkers pay only 1-2% on wine and beer?

      Why must you override the founding principles of representative democracy to trample the referendum we just approved?

      We voted for 12% tax – 20% is nearly double. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  13. Hi. My name is Mark Friedman and am a retired pediatrician. There is nothing about how to enforce driving under the influence of the drug and how can the police determine this event.
    I didn’t see specific language about how public service messages would be mad and then sent out to explain to teens,whose brains are still developing and can be impacted by this drug, the negative effects that the teens and their parents should know about.
    In my mind the opioid epidemic is to take care of peoples unhappiness and how will you figure out a way to screen kids who need counseling rather than drugs.

    1. Hi Mark, the bill includes a special commission to study driving under the influence and develop standards for how police can determine this.

      There is also a mandate to the Department of Public Health to develop a public awareness campaign to discourage youth marijuana use (to be funded by Marijuana tax).

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