Late last week, the Massachusetts Senate released a draft of a bill to that would replace the voter-approved measure legalizing recreational marijuana in the state. This draft of the bill proposes capping the tax on recreational weed at 12%, the same amount that was approved via the ballot measure. Earlier in the week, the state House proposed their own version of the bill, which would have raised that rate to 28%. This version of the bill drew so much criticism that House leaders pulled the bill before it could even be debated.
Pat Jehlen, chair of the Senate Marijuana Policy Committee, said that her chamber's version of the bill kept the lower tax rate out of respect for voters' wishes. "One of the problems we face in this country is a lack of trust in government," she said. "The Senate bill preserves the will of voters." The Senator also said that high taxes would lead to high retail costs, which would send some recreational buyers to the black market for cheaper weed. "The illegal market thrives if there are high taxes and low access," she said.
The state Legislature has already agreed to delay the rollout of retail marijuana stores until July 1st, 2018. Lawmakers have set a deadline to finalize the rewrite of the legalization bill by July 1st of this year as they expect that it will take a full year to review canna-business applications, define regulations, and create the new Cannabis Control Commission.
The Senate bill is also expected to include a provision for sealing the criminal records of anyone convicted of any marijuana offense that is no longer a crime under current state law. The House version of the bill did not address this issue at all. "For months now we've been in 80 percent agreement on the issues, and we knew early on the major differences were on [criminal records] expungement, taxes and local control," said Rep. Mark Cusack, chair of the House Marijuana Policy Committee.
"Until we see the full bill from the Senate it's hard to comment on everything that's in it, but at this point we think they get a number of things right," said Jim Borghesani of the Marijuana Policy Project. "The House bill, even with its most egregious flaws addressed, adopts a hostile approach that would not serve any system of commerce well, much less the fledgling legal marijuana market."