9 Problems With the Marijuana Rules Proposed by Massachusetts Legislators

Anticipating approval of a legalization initiative, a legislative committee recommends heavier taxes and stricter regulations.


Camapaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

In an op-ed piece published yesterday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healy, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh urged voters to reject a marijuana legalization measure that is expected to appear on the state ballot in November. Meanwhile, state legislators released a 118-page report that assumes marijuana will be legalized and makes recommendations about how it should be regulated. Their answer: more strictly than envisioned by the ballot initiative, which is known as the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA). Here are some of the ways in which the Special Senate Committee on Marijuana wants to make restrictions on the production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis more onerous:

1. Home cultivation. The RTMA allows adults 21 or older to have up to six plants and 12 seedlings at home. The committee wants to "prohibit home growing" or at least "impose a temporary moratorium." If home cultivation were eventually allowed, growers would have to register with the state to make the enforcement of limits easier.

2. Possession. The RTMA allows possession of up to an ounce in public and up to 10 ounces at home, plus whatever is produced by homegrown plants. The report calls for a one-ounce limit in all settings, meaning people would be allowed to buy no more than one ounce minus whatever they had at home. 

3. Taxes. The RTMA calls for a 3.75 percent excise tax and allows local governments to impose special sales taxes of up to 2 percent. The committee recommends "an excise tax of between 5-15%," plus "a marijuana-specific sales tax of 10-20%" and local taxes up to 5 percent. Elsewhere in the report, the authors say "the black market is likely to persist." They seem determined to make that prediction come true.

4. Local bans. The RTMA requires local voters to approve bans on marijuana businesses in particular cities or counties. The committee thinks a vote by local legislators should be enough.

5. Stoned driving. The RTMA does not change current state law concerning driving under the influence of marijuana, which does not include any threshold based on THC blood levels. The committee, even while conceding "there is no well-accepted standard for determining driver impairment from marijuana intoxication," recommends "establishing a legal limit for THC blood concentration that would support at least a permissible inference standard in court." That is the standard used in Colorado, where a jury is permitted (but not required) to find a defendant guilty of DUI based on nothing more than a blood test showing a THC level above the arbitrary cutoff of five nanograms per milliliter.

6. Marijuana edibles. The RTMA does not specify any restrictions on the types of edibles that merchants may sell. The report says legislators should "prohibit the manufacture and sale of marijuana products that are particularly appealing to youth and may be mistakenly consumed by children, such as candy bars or gummy bears." Such a ban could cover a wide range of candies, snacks, baked goods, and beverages that have proven highly popular with adults in Colorado.

7. Marijuana concentrates.  While the RTMA envisions the sale of concentrates, the committee says legislators should ban home production and "consider setting an upper limit on potency that would apply to all marijuana products," which would effectively ban the commercial production of concentrates as well.

8. Advertising. The RTMA calls for "reasonable restrictions on signs, marketing, displays and advertising with respect to marijuana, marijuana products and marijuana accessories, including prohibiting marketing or advertising designed to appeal to children." Here is what the committee considers reasonable: "strict limits on marijuana marketing, advertising, and promotion in order to limit commercialization and youth appeal"; a ban on television, radio, print, Internet, billboard, or other ads "that may be viewed by youth"; and a ban on "advertising that may be seen out of state" (except for Internet ads). The legislators implicitly concede that the regulations they want would be blatantly unconstitutional if marijuana were not still banned by the Controlled Substances Act. They argue that federal prohibition means they don't have to worry about the First Amendment's "free speech protections." That may or may not be true, but they seem to be forgetting about the state constitution, which also guarantees freedom of speech.

9. Banking. The report notes the barriers to banking created by the federal marijuana ban but nevertheless says legislators should "require evidence of a banking relationship as part of the licensure process for a marijuana-related business."

From the perspective of consumers and entrepreneurs, all of these purported improvements are worse than the rules preferred by the ballot initiative's backers. On the brighter side, the report's authors wisely recommend that legislators neither require nor prohibit vertical integration, and they do not rule out the cannabis cafés that would be allowed by the RTMA, saying only that alcohol sales should not be permitted there. 

NEXT: What Is Congress Hiding?

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  1. Let’s see,pass enough rules to stunt legal grows,sellers and consumers.Then ,when the black market continues to thrive yell,’see,legalization doesn’t work,more drug war’.

    1. In Michigan the white market costs more than the black due to over regulation and taxes. This may be the case everywhere.

  2. It’s nice to see a bipartisan trio coming together to both confirm and dispel the narratives about their respective parties’ stance on the War on Drug Users.

  3. Yay, “freedom”.

  4. The RTMA allows adults 21 or older to have up to six plants and 12 seedlings at home.

    Serious question: Is there any debated rationale for these numbers?

    Also, “Your Honor, the defendant had only 11 seedlings, in clear violation of the law.”

    1. Do we ever give serious answers when prefaced that way?

      1. no it is serious. anyone who’d ever grown a vegetable knows the number of plants you have is the ONLY thing that determines how much yield you’re gonna get.

    2. It is all pretty silly. Now you have to define “seedling” as well.

      Imagine, if you will, an intrepid investigator… watching with uncommon determination. Watching as plants sit in little pots. Just a few millimeters more and he’s got a felon with 18 plants, instead of a law-abiding citizen with 6 plants and 12 seedlings.

    3. “Your Honor, these are ‘saplings,’ and any reasonable and objective officer at the time of arrest could have ascertained the difference.

      For you see, saplings are…”

  5. Charlie Baker was supposed to give MA residents a break from those awful authoritarian Democrats. Who knew is was by being an awful authoritarian Republican?

  6. That committee report comes off like it was written by some random guy who had never heard of marijuana but was a personal enemy of the RTMA author and just wanted to contradict him whenever possible. “Damn that Jim and his reefer! I’ll show him!”

  7. theyve had medical for years and, as far as i know, have yet to get a dispensary open. I was hoping the one bright side would be people being like fuck this we clearly cant count on our government to get marijuana to people who need it, fuck government control over our body chemistry, but that doesnt seem to be happening.

    1. They do have dispensaries open. The site isn’t letting me post the link to the search results that I was trying to provide, but go type massachusetts medical marijuana dispensary into Google.

      Apparently the application process to get approved as a marijuana patient there is super restrictive, though. Last year my friend’s dad was dying of cancer and he STILL couldn’t qualify. From what I was told, they rejected his application over some relatively trivial paperwork flub.

  8. “Elsewhere in the report, the authors say “the black market is likely to persist.” They seem determined to make that prediction come true.”

    That statement may be intended to dissuade voters from supporting the initiative, but should it pass, that’s also reassuring to the police that depend on the drug war for their livelihoods, too.

    It’s a win/win!

    Unless you’re one of those crazy people who cares about freedom and the good of the community.

  9. How could they possibly enforce a limit on the total amount of product you could have at home?

    1. Can I search your home? If not I’ll bring in the drug dogs and a tank with a battering ram. –

      Nancy Reagan had a better policy. Just start with the battering ram.

  10. and massachusetts continues to be massachusetts. Surprising!

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