Massachusetts is at war with itself.
While it’s not an arms race or a revolution, it’s something that could be just as dangerous: a Cold War. It’s a Cold War and the War on Drugs combined, stemmed from marijuana-induced tensions that have been continuously heightening since before the passing of ballot question #4 in November of 2016: the legalization, taxation and regulation of pot in Massachusetts.
Lawmakers, lobbyists and citizens on all sides of the political spectrum are at a stalemate. The state has been struggling with the specifics of this law because of its complicated nature, and the citizens who voted in support of ballot question #4 are worried that elected officials will fail them. But as the bill (and its rewrites) continue to circulate through state legislature, one thing remains: there’s still a lot that needs to be figured out.
With that being said, here’s what you need to know about what’s going on in the Massachusetts State House regarding marijuana right now:
1) Lawmakers proposed a 28% tax increase on marijuana that voters were not happy about.
Advocacy groups are afraid that because of a high marijuana tax, citizens will feel encouraged to buy it from the black market in Massachusetts, thus increasing the correlation between marijuana and criminality. However, lawmakers believe that the normal rules of economics will apply here, rules that insist a higher tax will force people to buy other products in place of marijuana, therefore causing its price (and demand) to plummet. However, cigarette taxes suggest that this is not always the case, especially for mind-altering substances like alcohol and drugs. This is a drastic change from the original voter-approval of a 12% tax in November (although medical marijuana would still remain untaxed as originally proposed).
2) Lawmakers also proposed that two seats be added to the Cannabis Control Committee.
The proposal also suggests that the Cannabis Control Committee, originally approved by voters in November to contain three members, would add two seats, making it a committee of five in total. It would also designate appointing powers to the governor and state attorney general, an addition that voters are not thrilled about considering current Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s voiced opposition to the law. The committee is also responsible for granting marijuana licenses.
3) It’s still unsure who will get the final say on adding marijuana shops in local communities.
While the specifics regarding marijuana are ultimately being left up to communities, it is still undecided whether local voters or municipal officials will make the final call. The proposed revisions suggest that municipal officers ultimately call the shots, but citizens are saying that communities should allow their voters to decide. There has been a considerable amount of public ridicule directed at lawmakers for what voters consider to be an attempt at silencing the citizens’ side of the marijuana debate, which may have been what pressured the Legislature to pull the bill yesterday.
4) Lawmakers pulled the proposal yesterday, just hours before it was scheduled to be debated.
This was a notable choice, as lawmakers must submit their revisions to Governor Baker by June 30th. They will be releasing a different set of revisions next week to be debated, which has marijuana advocates’ reactions split. On one hand, many were against the proposal, meaning there is a better chance that lawmakers will come up with revisions that align more closely with voters’ hopes for the bill; but on the other, there is a significant possibility that this will prolong the addition of marijuana shops in Massachusetts, especially since the Legislature already voted to postpone the opening of recreational shops by six months last December.
5) Massachusetts Legislature has been slow before in regards marijuana laws, meaning that it is very likely this stalemate remain in place for an indeterminate amount of time.
When medical marijuana passed in 2012, state officials took their time in enforcing and implementing the law, which may be a foreshadow for this marijuana law. It’s no surprise that lawmakers are everything but timely in their decisions, so citizens may have to wait another few years before this law is truly enforced and normalized.