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Massachusetts Bill Would Double Cannabis Tax, Globe Reports

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UPDATE 6/14/17, 4:35 pm 

The rewrite of a Massachusetts voter-approved cannabis law was abruptly yanked late Wednesday— just hours before it was scheduled to be debated by the full House. The bill’s rewrite was received as controversial from voters and cannabis advocates alike, as the rewrite seemed to go against what Massachusetts voters voted on this past election season without going into more detail.

Speaker Robert DeLeo cited “procedural issues” and “certain things we have to clear up,” without going into more specificity.

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House leaders in Massachusetts are expected to unveil a bill Wednesday that will double the existing tax rate on adult-use cannabis.

As first reported by the Boston Globe, members of the House are trying to revise the state’s voter-passed legalization law to set the total tax on adult-use cannabis at 28%. The bill would also give municipal officials the power to ban cannabis shops and farms, rather than leaving that decision in the hands of local voters.

This legislation marks an extreme break with Massachusetts voters. Last November’s Question 4 ballot initiative, which legalized recreational marijuana, garnered nearly 54% of the vote. Question 4 set the tax rate at 12%.

The proposed legislation would also consolidate the oversight of Massachusetts’ medical and recreational cannabis programs into one agency. It would also impose stricter restrictions on cannabis edibles, along with limitations on cannabis advertising.

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Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg would be stripped of her cannabis oversight authority, according to an outline of the legislation and subsequent interview with the bill’s author, Rep. Mark J. Cusack (D) of Braintree, by the Boston Globe.

According to Cusack, the bill respects the will of the voters while looking after the public safety and health of the state.

“The voters voted to allow people 21 years of age and above to be able to access a regulated and safe marketplace. That is exactly what this bill does,” he told the Boston Globe. “The ballot question is fundamentally flawed. It needs to be improved, and that’s what this committee’s charge has been — to work through the different issues and come up with the best system possible for the consumer and the Commonwealth.”

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The original voter-passed initiative called for a total of 12% taxes on cannabis, which was made up of a  3.75% state tax, a 2% local option tax on cannabis sales, and the state’s existing 6.25% retail sales tax.

Under the House bill that is expected to be put to a vote on Thursday, the total tax would be set at 28%, with a 6.25% sales tax, 16.75% state cannabis tax, and a mandatory 5% local tax that would go to city and town coffers.

The bill will likely get passed in some version on Thursday, before moving to the Senate. If the Senate passes its own version of the legislation, the differences would be hashed out in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

Legislators hope to send the final product to Gov. Charlie Baker by the end of the month.

The House bill would not change the rules regarding home grows, or the amount of legal cannabis a person may legally possess.

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