BOSTON —Massachusetts continues the 115-year-old tradition of restricting marijuana sales, despite the passing of a ballot initiative in November. The Massachusetts House and Senate passed a bill Dec. 28 in less than half an hour that will push back the timetable for the opening of retail marijuana stores by six months to July 1, 2018.
But never fear. You can still legally have one ounce of marijuana in your back pocket. The law was initially passed on Nov. 8 after a ballot initiative (Question 4) won 54 percent of the vote, and legalization went into effect on Dec. 15. The law allows adults to possess and use limited amounts of marijuana and grow up to a dozen plants in their homes, as long as they don’t sell them.
But six legislators met during an informal session the last Wednesday of December to pass an additional bill changing the timetable for recreational shops to open, and without public debate.
Governor Charles Baker signed the bill on Friday, Dec. 30 as a small group of 15 protesters gathered outside of the State House. The time adjustment from Jan. 1, 2018 to July 1, 2018 gives Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg and her department additional time to assemble a new regulatory body called the Cannabis Control Commission. The treasurer now has until Oct. 1 to appoint the group, and all other deadlines are pushed back by six months.
Activists were not thrilled with the circumstances of the law passing during an informal session. Jim Borghesani, the spokesman for the Yes on 4 campaign, told Paste, “We are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter Question 4 in an informal session with very little notice regarding proposed changes. We are willing to consider technical changes to Question 4 so that the new law is implemented in a timely and responsible manner.”
On Boston Herald Radio, Senate President Stan Rosenberg told listeners that “We came to the agreement for a six-month delay to get it right.” He mentioned that in a meeting with advocates, “The first thing that we did was say, “Nope, we’re not changing the Dec. 15 deadline, possession and use will be legal Dec. 15 as will home grow.”’ Rosenberg cited recommendations from Colorado legislators, which went through a similar process and timetable when the state allowed recreational shops to open in 2014. Rosenberg supported Question 4.
Rosenberg told Paste in a statement, “This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law. Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country.”
So what exactly can you do when you’re in Massachusetts and want to smoke some pot?
– You can grow, possess, and use marijuana in Massachusetts if you’re 21 and older.
– Specifically, up to one ounce in public, and use and possession of up to ten ounces at home.
– You can grow up to 6 plants per person at home, with up to 12 marijuana plants per household.
– You can give up to one ounce to another person 21 years or older for free.
– You can’t sell it, or transport over state lines, and you can’t mail it in a package.
– You can’t consume in public or on public transportation, public parks, and schools.
– You will be able to buy recreational marijuana when dispensaries open, on July 1, 2018.
– You can still get an OUI (operating under the influence) charge, with a misdemeanor for the first offense. Massachusetts has no minimum amount of marijuana standard, so if you’re pulled over, the judgment will be on a case-by-case basis.
– Once it’s for sale, it will be taxed 3.5 percent. Municipalities can choose to tax an additional two percent. All tax revenue goes to the Marijuana Regulation Fund.
One thing the new law hasn’t changed is the medical marijuana law of 2012. Patients registered with the state and approved for medical marijuana usage can still buy it at one of nine registered marijuana dispensaries.
The state’s rigorous application process has allowed nine dispensaries to open. Patients have to get a referral from a certified marijuana prescriber to receive cannabis. Norton Arbelaez is the Director of Government Affairs at the state’s largest dispensary, New England Treatment Access (NETA), which has two locations near Boston. He explained the diverse clientele of NETA in an interview with Paste. “We have several pediatric patients. We serve kids with epilepsy, and our oldest patient is 96 or 97 years old. We span the gamut in terms of patients.” Regulations do not allow marijuana dispensaries to advertise or even discuss pricing, but some patients discuss pricing on Reddit and keep active spreadsheets. Arbelaez did say that the prices are, “very competitive.”
NETA has daily menus of different strains, to be digested in capsules, pre-rolled joints, edibles, and even lotions.
The state continues to review applications for new medical marijuana dispensaries. Meanwhile, non-medical consumers will wait until 2018 to buy.
The recreational marijuana law has already survived two ballot measure challenges in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and large sums of cash thrown to the opposition campaign by Sheldon Adelson and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.