This week, Massachusetts lawmakers will introduce a completely rewritten version of the voter-approved measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state. The new version of the bill, which would substantially increase taxes and allow local officials to ban canna-businesses, was immediately criticized by marijuana advocates, who said that the new bill “insults voters.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the new bill is that local officials would be given greater powers to refuse canna-businesses who want to set up in their jurisdictions. The currently-approved law requires municipal officials to get approval from their voters if they want to ban marijuana businesses from opening on their turf. The new bill would do away with the vote, allowing any local officials to ban any cannabis-related business at their own behest.
Jim Borghesani, representative for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that this aspect of the new bill “insults voters,” because the “removal of ban authority from local voters will give a handful of selectmen the ability to overrule the opinion of their own constituents.”
While the original measure allowed a recreational pot tax of up to 12 percent, the new bill would raise it dramatically, to a mandatory 28 percent. This tax includes a 16.75 percent state cannabis tax, a 5 percent local tax, and the standard state 6.25 percent sales tax. Medical marijuana sales would remain untaxed, fortunately.
This extreme increase outrages many advocates, who argue that recreational users will turn to the black market for cheaper weed. “This tax rate is directly contrary to the will of the voters and so is the lack of voter voice at the municipal level,” Senator Patricia D. Jehlen said. “Both will preserve the illicit market.’’
However, the basics of the bill remain intact. “The voters voted to allow people 21 years of age and above to be able to access a regulated and safe marketplace,” said Rep. Mark Cusack, author of the new bill. “That is exactly what this bill does.” The limitations on home-grows, purchases, and personal possession of marijuana remain the same as the original measure.
The House will vote on the bill this Thursday, and intend to pass some version of it to send along to the Senate. Legislators are hopeful that a final version of the bill will be ready for Gov. Charlie Baker's signature by the end of the month.