Massachusetts Act to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

A regulated, taxed marijuana trade could help bolster the state’s economy, advocates for legal marijuana said today at a Revenue Committee hearing.

“Whether you like it or you hate it … it is undeniable in 2009 that marijuana has become inextricably embedded in our culture,” said Richard Evans, a Northampton attorney. “It is ubiquitous and it is ineradicable.”

Evans urged the committee to “put on your green eye shades and give close scrutiny to marijuana prohibition.” He asserted that the revenue the state could reap from a legalized marijuana industry could be comparable to the effect of introducing casinos, although he offered no supporting data.

During the hearing, lawmakers heard from a long line of lawyers, professors and young people who argued in favor of legalization, pointing to Massachusetts’s history as a leader on social issues and describing its potential to ease symptoms of Crohn’s disease or migraine headaches. Their testimony dominated the hearing, which also included on the docket bills to raise the alcohol excise tax and to reimburse cities and towns for tax exempt properties owned by non-profits.

Backers of legalization spoke on behalf of a bill (H 2929), filed by Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) at Evans’s request. The proposal would prevent “possession or cultivation of cannabis,” “gratuitous distribution of cannabis to an adult,” and “possession or distribution of cannabis under a valid license” from being considered violations of the law.

A preamble to the proposal states that the goal of the bill is “the reduction of cannabis abuse, the elimination of marijuana-related crime and the raising of public revenue.” The bill would establish a council to set up a grading system for marijuana quality and would ban additives, which supporters argued would ensure the health and safety of users.

The bill would impose various rates of excise taxes on marijuana retail sales, depending on the concentration of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Marijuana with the highest concentration of THC would be taxed at $250 an ounce, while lower concentrations would range from $150 to $200 in taxes. In addition, licenses to sell marijuana would cost $2,000 a year. Marijuana vending machine sales would be prohibited.

Lawmakers on the committee expressed skepticism but offered little in the way of opposition or support. Rep. Lew Evangelidis (R-Holden) wondered whether any other nations have a system of taxation and regulations of marijuana, and Rep. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield) asked advocates whether they would be confident in the government’s ability to set up a regulatory system.

Committee co-chair Rep. Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he was surprised by one aspect of the arguments.

“This is probably the only hearing this committee has ever had or will ever have with this number of people asking to be taxed,” he said.

The discussion came nearly a year after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, replacing the threat of arrest with a $100 fine.

But advocates for legalization say decriminalizing possession still leaves open the question of where users would obtain marijuana, which they say is now done on an unregulated, often dangerous black market. They also highlighted the potential medical uses of marijuana and noted that California and Rhode Island were exploring issues surrounding legalization.

Rep. William Breault, a member of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety, a Worcester-area organization that advocates for various public safety measures, said legalizing marijuana would be giving political validation to a dangerous drug that is often the cause of impaired driving accidents. He said that in California, where some dispensaries may legally sell medical marijuana, ancillary robberies, shootings and other crimes have resulted.

Breault said he is pursuing local efforts to raise fines for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to as much as $500.

Noting that driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal, Rep. Evangelidis wondered whether rates of driving under the influence climb in areas in which marijuana can be obtained legally or with less restriction.

During the debate over the decriminalization of marijuana possession last year, law enforcement officials, the Patrick administration and various community groups formed a coalition that unsuccessfully sought to defeat the question. The coalition argued that decriminalization would cause a surge in violent crime, medical problems, impaired driving and youth drug use.

“Why would we want to put another monkey on society’s back?” Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley asked last year at a rally to oppose decriminalization. “There is no public health or public safety benefit.”

Other opponents of decriminalization included Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, the TenPoint Coalition, the Black Ministerial Alliance, the Massachusetts Sheriffs Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Dorchester Youth Collaborative.

– Article from the Boston Herald on October 14, 2009.

Comments

10 Comments

  1. Anonymous on

    I watched the other associated videos on the hearing for this case in Massachusetts, and I find it disheartening that the only case in opposition was based on a false comparison. The man that testified against the legalization based his argument on violence and damage in California. California’s marijuana policy legalizes medical dispensaries as it has medical marijuana legal. It is unfair to even compare what is being proposed in Mass to a different law in California. It is not outright legal in California. The only fair comparison based on violence would have to come from a place where it is completely legal, as in not just for medical use. Compare the evidence to either Holland, Austria, or Switzerland. These countries, rather than punishing others for one’s personal opposition to marijuana usage, choose to monitor its usage and alternative lifestyle. Yes, it is true, Massachusetts would become the first state to tax marijuana. How much longer are we willing to shy away from acting based on a fear from dissimilar evidence? It is about time the Massachusetts acts and takes a stance as a leader in the nation. Do not sit back and idle; act and uphold the justice of the state and nation.

  2. Anonymous on

    From section 9 of the bill:


    Subject to approval by the general court, such excise shall be adjusted by the authority from time to time as necessary to maximize the revenue derived therefrom, and to minimize the incentive for the sale of cannabis not in accordance with the provisions of this act.

  3. Anonymous on

    Since drug enforcement creates jobs I hope somebody doesn’t propose that taxes be collected from people busted with more than, lets say, an ounce. In this scenario the enforcement of it would still take place, if not even increasing. They could slap the $100 fine on the offender plus the tax. One thing I’ve noticed from any conviction of drugs is collecting the $$$ and referring the user to dependency evaluations and treatment, both of which takes more money from the offender, is the real agenda. They don’t care if you reform. If that were the case they’d take the money obtained from the offender and put it towards the price of their treatment. Plus it’s way easier to bust a user if you know who they are and where they live. Decriminalization sounds like it only benefits the government just because the whole tax idea. They’ve already decided where the money will be distributed and I’d bet it isn’t gonna go towards rehab. And if it does every person who tried marijuana once will be the ones who do the counseling. I’ve been through treatment and the person running the show had never even smoked marijuana, the drug she abused were prescription drugs.

  4. greenguy28 on

    $250 an ounce tax? Who’s the drug dealer now?

  5. Anonymous on

    youre right if it was taxed at 250 an oz for stuff thats at, lets say 20% thc or more i would definately go to some dude i met at a bar rather then buy it from the bar. 250s way to high unless the oz is 5 bucks then id pay maybe

  6. Anonymous on

    Gopal:
    Read the Bills and you will see that issues involving personal use are addressed. If someone wants to grow cannabis for personal use, it will be legal. That portion of the Bill is similar to what is currently being used for homebrew beer in the U.S. Meaning, if you want grow for personal use and not resale, it will be legal and untaxed.

    How many people want to drink beer they made themselves instead of buying some from a store? Most people won’t bother with trying to grow their own marijuana either. Takes a lot of work and education to produce quality marijuana on a consistent basis and handle problems properly. Bugs, molds, and diseases become a problem after a while, as do supply costs and labor. The plants and grow rooms you see in magazines require a lot of work and knowledge.

    If you are used to purchasing very low-quality marijuana from Mexico that has tons of seeds, has been mishandled in transit, has mold & trash in it, has low THC content, and is harsh on the lungs, then the taxation may seem excessive.

    However, if you have purchased medical grade marijuana that is properly handled, is gentle on the lungs, is free of parasites & diseases, is free of adulterants, is free of pesticides, and is of consistently excellent quality, the resulting prices will look reasonable. How much does a prison sentence generally cost? Lawyer fees? Asset forfeitures? Lost career and education opportunities? You have to consider the hidden costs in the equation too, not just street prices.

    The shops won’t be allowed to engage in promotional advertising (tv, radio, magazines, newspapers), use fancy signs, and do other things that generally drive prices up and potentially make them a potential nuisance to non-users.

    The taxation levels (A,B,C grades) are there to regulate the amount of tax that will be collected for use by the local government. The taxes will pay for oversight board members, license processing, abuse investigations, and other issues that may arise. The Bills put oversight boards in place to protect both the buyers and the general public from abuses that are regular occurrences with illegal markets. Things like watching quality control, penalizing use of adulterants, keeping an eye on distribution chains, etc.

    For users who value their safety and those around them, the taxation makes sense. The money that is currently spent by criminal groups to hide, transport, market, and sell marijuana illegally will be put toward protecting buyers, sellers, and the community as a whole.

  7. Gopal on

    A tax of $150-250 per ounce? Ouch! I guess dreams of cheaper post prohibition prices will go up in smoke. That will likely keep those black market lines of distribution open as both growers and consumers will benefit from being outside that system. Honestly, that seems really excessive. I know its going to be taxed but I was thinking something comparable to cigarettes, at the proposed rate it would be comparable to a $85-145 tax per pack of cigarettes. That is an insanely excessive tax.

  8. Anonymous on

    I read through both the House Bill 2929 and Senate Bill 1801 last night (10-14-2009). Dick Evans did a great job on them! I am very pleased to see so many nuances thought of and addressed with regard to safety and consideration of cannabis users and non-users alike. Both sides are included in detail.

    Upon reading the Bills and hearing the issues addressed in the hearing, it’s apparent that the excuses are gone for continuing to waste tax dollars and continuing to lock people up over the failed policies of prohibition.

    I will be sending a copy of the Bills to my local state government officials and pushing them to pass this legislation in my state. If you are tired of seeing non-violent people imprisoned and tax dollars wasted, I recommend you do the same.

  9. Anonymous on

    This is my favorite word when it comes to cannabis: INERADICABLE . Lets not forget it is a WEED.
    WEEDS are by nature INERADICABLE.I hope that the DEA
    (at least the members who are literate)add this word to its vocabulary. It might help them take the appropriate course of action next time there contemplating busting
    a plantation.