More than eight months after adult recreational use marijuana was approved by Massachusetts voters, a group of state lawmakers has reached a compromise bill making changes to the law, setting the stage for the opening of retail cannabis shops on July 1 of next year.
The six-member House-Senate conference committee grappled with several areas where the two branches disagreed. Both the House and Senate are expected to approve the compromise later this week, with the bill likely landing on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk before the weekend.
Here’s how the compromise shapes up:
The maximum tax under the agreement would be 20 percent — 6.25 percent Massachusetts sales tax, 10.75 percent marijuana excise tax and an optional local sales tax of up to 3 percent.
Whether voters in a community would be required to vote in a local referendum before a city or town can ban marijuana businesses would depend on how that community voted on Question 4 (to legalize recreational marijuana) in November’s election.
Communities that voted in favor of legalization would have to put the question of any bans to the voters, before a ban could be implemented. If a community voted against Question 4, the local governing authority (e.g., city or town council, board of selectmen) would be able to unilaterally issue a ban and prevent legal marijuana businesses from setting up shop there.
In its bill, the Senate had included expungement, which means the tossing out of criminal convictions of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime in the past, if that offense is no longer considered illegal under the state’s new marijuana law. The House opposed expungement, saying it was better for the Legislature to consider it under a broader criminal justice reform package.
Expungement of criminal marijuana records did not make it into the final compromise bill, however under the measure it clarifies that criminal records can be sealed, and a public awareness campaign would be launched to make people aware that records can be sealed.
The original law created a three-person Cannabis Control Commission, with all members appointed by the state treasurer.
Both the House and Senate supported expanding that board to five members, and to divvy up appointment responsibilities. The governor would get one appointment, the attorney general would get another, and the treasurer would get one who would serve as chair. The other two members would be appointed by a majority vote of the governor, AG and treasurer.
The compromise takes the existing medical marijuana program out from under the control of the state Department of Public Health and places it entirely under the soon-to-be-created Cannabis Control Commission.
The compromise bill makes no changes to the existing law governing the home cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use. Every adult over 21 can grow up to six plants in their home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.