The bill that state representatives have been hashing out over reforms of the state’s brand new marijuana has finally been unveiled. And as advocates for legal, accessible pot feared, it comes with a major tax hike.
Among proposed changes to the law, which was overwhelmingly passed by 1.8 million voters via ballot question in November, the bill would bump up the tax from a total of 12 percent to a total of 28 percent for marijuana and marijuana-derived products. The tax rate on pot would climb from 3.75 percent to 16.75 percent, and instead of an optional 2 percent tax that cities and towns can tack on to marijuana sales—which the current law calls for—the reform would make a 5 percent local tax mandatory statewide. On top of that, marijuana buyers will pay the state’s 6.75 percent sales tax. Medical marijuana sales are not taxed.
The bill would also set new rules on advertising, packaging, and tracking of marijuana products. It would tear up plans for a three-member Cannabis Control Commission appointed by the state treasurer, and replace it with overseers picked by the governor, the state treasurer, and the state attorney general.
It wouldn’t impact the major changes that voters wanted and that Beacon Hill has resisted for years. You would still be able to buy, use, and grow as many as 12 plants of marijuana in Massachusetts if you are over 21. Retail pot stores would still be slated to open here in July of 2018.
Another major change, though, would make it easier for the leaders of cities and towns to ban or restrict the number of recreational pot businesses in their midst. The current law requires a community-wide vote to do that, but the new bill would let local boards do it on their own.
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The debate is far from over. The bill will be up for a vote in the House on Thursday. After that, pot law tweaks will have their day in the Senate. Major changes could be made before anything arrives on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. Baker, who spoke out against legalization last year, says via spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton that he will consider the bill when the Legislature is done with it and “will continue to work closely with lawmakers, educators, and public safety and public health professionals on the law’s implementation to ensure the transition protects the interests of our communities and families, while adhering to the will of the voters.”
Advocates for the ballot question that legalized recreational marijuana, who have been fighting since November to keep lawmakers from altering the law, were quick to bash the bill. “The House proposal in no way improves the measure passed by voters,” says Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Yes on 4 campaign, in a statement Tuesday night. “It weakens it and it insults voters in the process. Its irrational tax increase will give drug dealers the ability to undercut the legal market, and its removal of ban authority from local voters will give a handful of selectmen the ability to overrule the opinion of their own constituents.”
“Equally troubling,” he continues, “is a weakened governing structure that will be more cumbersome, more costly and less accountable. We hope the Senate puts forward a proposal which, unlike the House attempt, will keep the new system effective, accountable and respectful of the voters’ will.”