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. Good job. Although I have never used marijuana, I support those who do, especially for medical use. As long as it is used responsibly for recreational use, I have no problems with it.
    I have observed the good the tax revenue has done for Colorado and look forward to good use for the tax monies here in MA.

  2. Will pols who are using marijuana buy from a State store and be exposed or will they keep buying on the street?

    1. There are phenomenal delivery services that give anonymity. I could see polis using those lol 😀

  3. was it ever proposed that the communities who wanted to prohibit marijuana stores would abstain from the revenue from marijuana sales?

  4. This is not about Marijuana. It is about voters (aka your bosses) using our constitutional right to vote for something and having our representatives say we don’t care this is what we are going to do.

    1. The income tax rate was cut back to 5 percent back in 2000. It’s still not 5 percent.

    2. We voted for legislative term limits…what happened to that?

    I am very disappointed that once again that our politicians have caved in and tried to please everyone.

  5. A nitpick with this text in the FAQ “How does local officials’ authority change?”:

    “All local ordinances and bylaws are subject to review by the Attorney General pursuant to G.L., c. 40, s.32 and the Attorney General will need to make a finding that the law is not unreasonably impracticable before approving a new local ordinance or bylaw.”

    C. 40 s.32 requires AG approval of town bylaws, not city ordinances, specifically stating “This section shall not apply to cities.”

    (When this was enacted the legislators presumably thought cities to be more competent than towns!)

    Regarding the tax rate issue, I think the ideal tax rate would be on the sweet spot just low enough to effectively squash the black market; lower than that would leave revenue on the table. No one can really put a number on that sweet spot until the legal and illegal markets can compete, but it seems to me that 20% will be closer to it than 12%, based on the experience of other states with higher rates.

    From this Arlington neighbor, thanks for your hard work in getting to an agreeable-to-both-houses compromise!

  6. Marijuana can help reduce opiate use. See:

    The Economist did a business analysis of the drug trade. I can’t easily find the article right now. But it indicated that marijuana is the cash cow of the drug industry. After all, how much “grease” is necessary to get addictive drugs and compounds into and around a country? The cartels use weed to generate cash that subsidizes the other nasty stuff.

  7. I support all of these changes although still wishing it were not texted so high. Why any difference between Cannabis and alcohol, should be taxed at same rates.
    My complaint is that we are referring to Cannabis as Marijuana at all. Please use it’s proper name that is not derogatory to anybody.

  8. Senator Brownsberger,

    As one of your constituents, thank you for your efforts to ensure that the will of the voters is represented accurately and implemented properly. I will be contacting governor Baker and my other representatives to voice my support for this bill.

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