Legalization of marijuana raises many questions, concerns

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The passage on Nov. 8 of Question 4, legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, raises numerous questions for state and local government officials as well as law enforcement.
 
The new law allows the sale and use of marijuana by those age 21 and over. Edibles (food and drink infused with THC) will be allowed and regulated. (Voters passed a ballot initiative to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and another to legalize medical marijuana in 2012.)
 
Under the law, possession and use of recreational marijuana becomes legal on Dec. 15, though the sale of the drug does not become legal until Jan. 1, 2018, which is also the deadline for state regulations.
 
The initiative calls for a 6.25 percent sales tax, a 3.75 percent excise tax, and an optional 2 percent local tax. For reference, Colorado has a 2.9 percent sales tax, a 10 percent retail marijuana special sales tax, and a 15 percent special excise tax. Opponents of the ballot initiative had been vocal in their criticism of the relatively low tax rates.
 
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he “will not hesitate from day one to make changes” to the tax rates, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg indicated a similar willingness to make adjustments to the law. While the Legislature appears open to increasing the tax rate, it is unclear how far legislators would go in changing other parts of the law.
 
The new law allows individuals to grow up to 12 plants at home, but they would not be allowed to advertise or promote the sale of their home plants.
 
Municipalities seeking to limit marijuana dispensaries would need to opt-out of the program, and any municipality seeking to limit the number of dispensaries to less than 20 percent of its number of liquor licenses would be required to hold a local referendum on the issue.
 
To regulate the industry and to promulgate regulations, the law creates a three-member Cannabis Control Commission, modeled after the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, as well as a 15-member Cannabis Advisory Board, which is appointed by the governor. Eight of the 15 CAB members – a majority of the board – are required by statute to be involved with the existing marijuana industry. The board lacks a municipal representative.
 
The Office of the Treasurer is charged with appointing the CCC commissioners. Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has asked for more time to implement the law, citing the amount of work needed to create a new regulatory structure and technology system after the CCC is appointed in March.
 
Attention now turns to the appointment of the CCC and CAB and the process of developing regulations, which will be sure to have a large impact on the execution of the law.
 
Law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, are concerned that they lack adequate tools to effectively detect when drivers are impaired by marijuana use.
 
Both campaigns spent heavily on the election, with the “Yes on 4” group spending $6.3 million and the “No” group spending nearly $3 million.
 
The other questions on the statewide ballot saw mixed results.
 
Voters rejected Question 2, which would have raised the cap on the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. Question 1, which would have allowed for a new slots parlor in Revere, was also defeated. Voters passed Question 3, which will prohibit breeding pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens from being held in confined spaces.