Changes to Recreational Marijuana Law Okay’d
Tuesday, August 1st, 2017 @ 4:57PM
On Friday, Governor Baker signed into law a bill altering the state’s marijuana laws approved by voters last November, capping a nearly eight-month debate that has consumed the Legislature.
The measure signed into law, H.3818, An Act to ensure safe access to marijuana, was a compromise crafted by a conference committee appointed by House and Senate leadership to reconcile differing bills passed by the House on June 21st and the Senate on June 22nd. Representatives Mariano (D-Quincy), Cusack (D-Braintree), and Kane (R-Shrewsbury); and Senators Jehlen (D-Somerville), Brownsberger (D-Belmont), and Ross (R-Wrentham) sat on the committee.
In light of the Legislature’s changes to such a prominent and controversial public policy, state Representative Randy Hunt wanted to ensure that his constituents had access to resources that would help them understand the new law.
“I’ve found that our highly-charged political environment and the fragmentation of our sources of information have made it incredibly difficult for voters to find the right information: the facts,” said Rep. Hunt. “For this reason, my office is distributing materials that should be helpful in explaining this complicated new law.”
“Please know that my office is here as a resource for you to help answer any questions you might have and to help you navigate the web of state government,” he added. “It can often be a complicated, confusing, and sticky one.”
Below are the list of resources Representative Hunt would like you to have access to:
- Marijuana Conference Committee Report Outline – Breakdown of the bill produced by the legislative conference committee that crafted the final legislation
- H.3818, An Act to ensure safe access to marijuana – Full bill text. You can’t beat reading the real deal!
- Chapter 334 of the Acts of 2016 – The text of the law approved by voters through Ballot Question 4 and subsequently altered by the Legislature
- Barnstable County Question 4 results – Breakdown of vote of Question 4 throughout Cape Cod. Data provided by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and is made accessible through Public Document 43
Highlights of the bill are below:
Retail marijuana sales
Retail sale of pot is set to begin July 2018.
Tax rates and revenues
The new law raises the maximum tax rate on marijuana from 12 percent to 20 percent, including a 10.75 percent state excise tax, a 6.25 percent state sales tax, and a 3 percent local option excise tax. Medical marijuana will remain untaxed.
State excise tax will fund the operation of the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). Additionally, the Marijuana Regulatory Fund will receive funding, subject to appropriation by the Legislature, for substance use prevention (including early intervention education) and treatment services; public safety measures, such as public awareness campaigns and criminal justice-diversion programs; and workforce development programs, among other community services. The existing Medical Marijuana Fund will be folded into the new Marijuana Regulatory Fund. Any remaining monies will be deposited into the Commonwealth’s General Fund.
For the cities and towns in which a majority of voters approved Question 4: Any local measures to restrict or prohibit recreational marijuana within the municipality’s jurisdiction would need to be presented to voters as a local ballot question and approved during a local election. This would apply to Plymouth, as 51.4 percent of voters voted in favor of Question 4.
For the cities and towns in which a majority voted against Question 4: The municipal legislative body has the power to issue unilateral restrictions or prohibitions on recreational marijuana sales outlets. In the 5th Barnstable District, the Barnstable Town Council and the Bourne and Sandwich boards of selectmen along with town meeting approval have this authority, as their respective towns voted against the ballot initiative this past November. In the case of the Town of Sandwich which voted at the May 2017 election to reject retail recreational marijuana businesses, that vote stands and no further action is required. This additional power to opt out of recreational marijuana sales without a ballot vote applies to 90 towns and cities that voted against the ballot question in November 2016 and expires on December 31, 2019. After that, any municipality that wants to opt it or opt out must accomplish that by a ballot vote.
The five-member Cannabis Control Commission will be charged with regulating recreational and medical marijuana use and industry. It will be housed under the Executive Office of Administration & Finance. The Governor, Treasurer, and Attorney General each get to appoint a commissioner; the final two members will be selected by a majority vote of the three constitutional officers. The commissioners will be full-time state employees appointed to serve for no longer than two five-year terms.
The salaries of the commissioners are tied to that of the Secretary of Administration & Finance. The chairperson of the CCC will earn an annual salary equal to that of the secretary, which at this time is $160,000. The other members’ salaries cannot be more than three-quarters of the secretary’s—a maximum of $120,000. The state officials must be appointed by September 1.
A 25-member Cannabis Advisory Board (CAB) is charged with “consider[ing] all matters submitted to it by the commission…; recommend[ing] to the commission guidelines, rules and regulations and any changes to guidelines, rules and regulations that the advisory board considers important or necessary for the commission’s review and consideration; and [advising] on the preparation of regulations pursuant to chapter 94G and chapter 369 of the acts of 2012,” the drug stewardship program and the medical marijuana law, respectively.
The Governor, Treasurer, and Attorney General will each pick five appointees to the CAB; the final ten are ex officio members, including the executive director of the CCC (serving as the chair of the board) and representatives from the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Department of Revenue, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Agricultural Resources, the Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA), a registered qualifying patient of the MPAA, and the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
The Department of Public Health’s Medical Marijuana Program, which currently oversees all medical marijuana-related activities, will merge with the CCC in managing both recreational and medical marijuana use and distribution.
Consumer awareness and safety
The new bill gives the CCC regulatory power over marijuana advertising, packaging, and labeling. It requires that the potency and purity of commercially available marijuana is regularly tested.
Marijuana packaging must include a symbol that clearly indicates the package as one containing marijuana or a marijuana product, as well as a warning that it may be harmful to children. Packaging must also include the following:
- The name and location of the marijuana cultivator;
- Any testing and sampling results and a certification that the product meets all testing standards;
- A batch indication number, a list of ingredients, and any potential allergens; and
- The THC content, the amount of servings included in the package, a statement verifying FDA certification, and the “sell-by” date, if applicable.
With regard to marijuana advertising, businesses are strictly prohibited from advertising marijuana products in a deceptive or misleading manner, on any platform that has an audience composition of less than 85 percent being 21 years or older or by portraying anyone in the advertisement as less than 21 years of age, and using mascots or celebrity endorsements aimed at appealing to anyone younger than 21 years old, among other similar prohibitions aimed to keep marijuana advertisements at a low.
The new bill makes no changes to possession statutes already voted on by the citizens of Massachusetts. Therefore, any Massachusetts resident over the age of 21 years may possess one ounce of marijuana outside their primary residence, possess 10 ounces within their primary residence (plus any homegrown marijuana, up to 12 plants per household), and gift up to one ounce of marijuana to another person.
The amended bill does, however, raise the non-criminal threshold for marijuana possession for people under the age of 21 to two ounces and makes home cultivation a civil offense for anyone younger than 21 years old. Anyone carrying over two ounces of marijuana outside of their primary residence can be subject to criminal sanctions.
The compromise also establishes a commission on driving while under the influence, which is tasked with conducting a study about operating a vehicle while under the influence of substances. The substances under examination will include marijuana, but also narcotics, depressants, and stimulant drugs. The commission will ultimately recommend enforcement legislation by January of 2019.