Question 4 would create a framework for legal marijuana that resembles liquor laws

  • Richard Smith of Ashfield attended the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College on Oct. 6. RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

  • Pot samples at Northampton’s New England Treatment Access. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • a container of Harlox at NETA, New England Treatment Access. —Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A display of the products offered at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • LivWell store manager Carlyssa Scanlon shows off some of the products available in the marijuana line marketed by rapper Snoop Dogg in one of the marijuana chain's outlets south of downtown Denver in December 2015. As legal marijuana becomes a further-entrenched fact of life in Colorado, small-town leaders are struggling to sort out the same issues that Denver and other cities have tangled with, from zoning for grows and dispensaries to allowing cannabis clubs. AP FILE PHOTO

  • A display of the products offered at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • Tthe logo is shown on the front of jars of marijuana buds marketed by rapper Snoop Dogg in one of the LivWell marijuana chain's outlets south of downtown Denver. AP FILE PHOTO

  • A display case of some of the products offered at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • The patient area at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

  • Will Luzier makes a point during the Legalization of Marijuana Forum at Greenfield Community College on Oct. 6 RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

  • AP Photo

  • Anne Hassel, a patient services associate at New England Treatment Access marijuana dispensary (NETA) in Northampton. RECORDER STAFF/MATT BURKHARTT

For the Gazette
Published: 10/28/2016 10:45:48 PM

GREENFIELD — If voters approve Question 4 on Nov. 8, Massachusetts would join the ranks of the four states where possessing, consuming, selling and growing marijuana is legal.

For proponents, the new industry would look like the one for alcohol sales. The intent, they say, is to remove marijuana from the black market, in which a 2015 report by the Senate’s Special Committee on Marijuana estimated 885,000 state residents participated the year before. Legalization will also net the state sizeable tax revenues, say proponents, although it’s unclear exactly how much money or how much of it would be spent on things other than the regulatory system.

Opponents say opening the floodgates of recreational marijuana use could introduce risky edible marijuana products that could be mistaken for normal snacks, lead to more hard drug use down the line — commonly referred to as the “gateway drug” effect — and encourage more use among the state’s youth, whose developing brains are particularly vulnerable to overuse of drugs and liquor, experts say.

Over the past year, polls have shown general support for the 25-page-long ballot question, but that trend began to falter over the summer as the opposition campaign kicked into gear. More recent polls showing a “yes” vote pulling ahead again.

Overall, the state has a track record of approving questions related to marijuana use in some form, including the 2008 decriminalization of possessing small amounts of the drug and 2012’s approval of the medical use of marijuana.

What would the new law do?

If approved, the new law would legalize possession, personal use, cultivation and retail sales of marijuana.

It would also establish a Cannabis Control Commission tasked with overseeing operation of establishments that deal in marijuana sales, and a Cannabis Advisory Board, which would study and make recommendations on marijuana product regulations.

The state treasurer would initially appoint the members of the commission, while the governor would make appointments to the advisory board.

The governor and treasurer would also appoint new members as the original terms expire. The commissioners would be paid.

The advisory board would consist of 15 members drawn from various parts of the marijuana industry, law enforcement, public health, the justice system and social welfare. It would meet quarterly.


Increased state revenue has been a major selling point for proponents of the question, and the law would set up a framework for taxation.

The law calls for a 10 percent tax — 3.75 percent excise tax on the total sale price of recreational marijuana in addition to the state’s regular 6.25 percent sales tax. The revenue will go into a Marijuana Regulation Fund, and the law also provides cities and towns with the chance to further tax local sales up to 2 percent.

Massachusetts marijuana taxes would be substantially lower than those in Colorado, which allows for 27.9 percent between excise, sales and product specific taxes, and Washington, where the rate is 43.5 percent, according to the 2015 Senate report.

Money in the regulation fund would be required to be spent first on administration and enforcement of the new law. At the end of the fiscal year, anything left would go to the General Fund.

The legal sales age for marijuana would be the same as for alcohol: 21.

Drugged driving would remain a crime, and the law would not change the penalties for doing so. Critics of legalization note that there’s no reliable pot test akin to the chemical breath tests used for drunken driving investigations, and that makes it difficult to convict suspected offenders in court, which presumably would lead to more drugged driving.

Local control

The law would also give local government the ability to adopt ordinances and bylaws by public referendum that impose “reasonable safeguards” on the operation of marijuana establishments, including regulating the hours they’re allowed to operate and where they can be located, limiting the number of establishments allowed in town, restricting cultivation, processing and manufacturing considered a “public nuisance,” and restricting public signage.

Town residents can also file a petition, signed by at least 10 percent of the population, to have a local referendum on prohibiting the consumption of marijuana on the premises where its sold — so-called “cannabis cafes.”

Cannabis Control panel

The Cannabis Control Commission would be responsible for setting up much of the broader regulation of the marijuana industry. That includes facility licensing, the security of facilities where marijuana is stored, grown and sold, prevention of underage sales, special packaging requirements to prevent accidental ingestion, product tracking to prevent diversion, disposal of excess or contaminated product, and marijuana quality testing, among other duties.

The commission could also limit the amount of marijuana that could be grown statewide at any given time, based on current or projected supply and demand, to reduce the risk of black-market diversion.

Personal use

Under the law, Massachusetts residents would be able to purchase, possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana or five grams of a marijuana concentrate without fear of arrest or prosecution.

At home, it would be legal to possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana and any of the product harvested from up to six homegrown marijuana plants, as long as the premises do not have more than 12 plants on site at once.

The plants could not be grown in such a fashion that they’re visible to the public without the use of an optical aid like an aircraft or binoculars, or if the place they’re being grown can’t be secured.

It would also allow anyone over the legal sales age to give up to one ounce of marijuana or five grams of concentrate to another person as long as the transfer is not promoted publicly.


The law would make it illegal to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana in public or in a place where smoking tobacco is prohibited, and it would be against the law to possess an open or partially consumed container of marijuana inside a vehicle’s passenger area. That doesn’t include the trunk, the area behind the last upright seat, a locked glove compartment, or an area not occupied by the driver or passenger.


If approved, the law would take effect on Dec. 15. The first licensing applications from experienced marijuana establishment operators for testing facilities, cultivators, manufacturers and retailers would begin in October 2017.

The law would allow up to 75 licenses each of retailers, cultivators and manufacturers.

It would give precedence to applicants who already applied for medical marijuana facilities by October 2015, and then by lottery to other qualified applicants.

Currently, only Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, Washington D.C., and Alaska have legalized recreational marijuana.

If the referendum passes, Gov. Charlie Baker or the Legislature will be able to propose and adopt changes to the law’s content, including amending, removing or adding provisions, according to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who recently said he’d vote “yes” on the question.

“The (governor), Speaker (of the House) and I have all said at different times that we would implement the law if passed by the voters,” Rosenberg said. “Some of the issues of concern are how to handle operating vehicles under the influence of marijuana, handling of (cannabis) infused edibles and beverages, and (if) the tax rate (is) sufficient to cover the costs (of) administration, licensing, (and) oversight.”

Enforcement relating to the establishments that will sell the products and public health and public safety issues are also among those concerns, he said.


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