Massachusetts Marijuana – Now What?

Massachusetts marijuana

massachusetts marijuana

Mass­a­chu­setts voters on Nov. 8 over­whelm­ingly approved the legal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana. The new law will take effect Dec. 15, but there are still some ques­tions con­cerning reg­u­la­tion, pos­ses­sion, and distribution for Massachusetts marijuana.

We asked asso­ciate pro­fessor Leo Beletsky, a drug policy expert who holds joint appoint­ments in the School of Law and Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, for his insight into what we can expect in the coming months and how President-elect Donald Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion could impact the imple­men­ta­tion of the new law.

What are the next steps to bringing legal­ized Massachusetts mar­i­juana to fruition on Dec. 15? And what can we expect in the months to follow?

Voters approved Ques­tion 4 by a sub­stan­tial margin, despite con­sid­er­able ambi­guity in how the mea­sure will be imple­mented. Under the pro­vi­sions, resolving much of the ambi­guity will be the job of the three-member Cannabis Con­trol Com­mis­sion, with input from a 15-member Cannabis Advi­sory Board. On Dec. 15 or shortly there­after, we can expect that newly-formed reg­u­la­tory struc­ture to begin its work of deter­mining the pre­cise reg­u­la­tions and mech­a­nisms by which mar­i­juana prod­ucts will be man­u­fac­tured, sold, and taxed. So it will be some time, likely not until 2018, until we see any retail estab­lish­ments pop­ping up around the state.

The more imme­diate effects of the law will be the legal status of Massachusetts mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion and indi­vidual cul­ti­va­tion. Anyone who is 21 years old or older can now pos­sess con­sid­er­able amounts of marijuana—up to 10 ounces in their pri­mary residence—and cul­ti­vate up to six plants per person, or up to 12 in a home, sub­ject to lease restric­tions. Although per­sonal pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana was decrim­i­nal­ized in 2008 and arrests for pos­ses­sion are already rare, the new law com­pletely elim­i­nates any fines or other penal­ties and sub­stan­tially increases the quan­ti­ties threshold.

What are some common mis­con­cep­tions people have about this law?

In the lead up to Elec­tion Day, there were con­cerns about how this mea­sure will shape the vis­i­bility, mar­keting, and poten­tial expo­sure of chil­dren to Massachusetts mar­i­juana. The reality is that the mea­sure does not address any of these elements—they remain to be deter­mined during the rule-making phase. Based on the expe­ri­ence of states that have already legal­ized recre­ational pot use, Mass­a­chu­setts has an oppor­tu­nity to avoid some of the pit­falls. For example, in response to increased pedi­atric emer­gency room visits, Col­orado has changed the way it reg­u­lates pack­aging and dosing of edible products—something that impacts acci­dental inges­tion by kids.

Another related con­cern was that there would be a sharp increase in the number of people smoking Massachusetts mar­i­juana in public. This may or may not be the case because mar­i­juana smoking is still pro­hib­ited any­where cig­a­rette smoking is banned, including parks, cam­puses, and play­grounds. Of course, the enforce­ment of cig­a­rette smoking bans and public drinking is often spotty, while mar­i­juana smoking is already per­va­sive in some public spaces. So it is unclear what impact the law will have in this space. The hope is that the cost-savings and increased tax rev­enue resulting from this reform will sup­port more uni­form and equi­table enforce­ment of sen­sible public health safeguards.

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