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Massachusetts Bill Would Double Cannabis Tax, Globe Reports

June 14, 2017
(Rocky89/iStock)
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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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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  • Shirley Marquez Dulcey

    Mr Cusack: the referendum is not flawed. The bill you wrote is. Nearly all of your proposed changes are changes for the worse, at least if your goal is to actually create a viable marketplace for cannabis products. But then that never was your intent, as you (like most of our elected officials) are opposed to legalization.

    Point by point:

    Taxes: some increase in the rate is probably justifiable, as it was set below the rates in other states that have legalized. But your proposal makes the tax burden excessive, and endangers one of the benefits of legalization: killing the illegal market for cannabis.

    Local control: requiring a referendum for cities and towns that wish to restrict sales is fair. Putting that control in the hands of elected officials is not. There is a serious disconnect between our officials and the electorate: despite the fact that the majority of voters favor legalization, nearly all of our elected officials are opposed. Allowing those officials to make the decisions guarantees that most cities and towns will ban dispensaries and thus thwart the wishes of the populace.

    Marijuana commission: a primary goal of the treasurer is to maximize revenue collection, and thus the office has an inherent bias in favor of the goals of legalization, to create a marketplace. Thus the referendum has it right. Your bill puts two additional elected offices into the picture: the governor (the current one opposes legalization) and the attorney general (a stand-in for law enforcement, a community that has universally opposed legalization). The proposed composition of the commission will create a roadblock for implementation.

    The one thing you did get right: increased regulation of edibles. There have been problems in other states with edible products with unreasonably high levels of cannabis. An edible product intended to be consumed as sold (rather than used as an ingredient like marijuana butter and oil) should be formulated so that a normal serving of that type of food is one dose. Bad examples that have been spotted elsewhere include a brownie that contained NINE doses (and thus was meant to be broken into small parts) and gummy bears where ONE bear was a full dose (who eats one gummy bear?). Products that are meant as ingredients should be clearly labeled so they will be used responsibly.

  • Happy Sock

    Just keep taxing it until the illegal sources are cheaper.

  • Peter Bernard

    The cannabis community in Massachusetts will not stand for this. Reports this morning say this bill is already being pulled. The Massachusetts Grower Advocacy Council, MassCANN/NORML, and other advocacy groups and their supporters slammed communications on Beacon Hill with complaints. This atrocious bill lasted less than 24 hours.

    • Skylar

      So, just to confirm, this anti-cannabis bill ( since that is basically what it is ) is now dead?

      I don’t understand how the MA House and Senate can pull this crap? First, it was up to the will of the voters. More than 50% of MA voters said YES to adult recreational legalization, and as part of Question 4, the voters already set the cannabis tax rates on it, so how could the MA governor, House and Senate change all of this?

      I am currently living in Syracuse, NY ( but have been trying to move to MA for quite some time ) largely because of the more lose-cannabis laws in MA compared to NY ( which is tight!! ) and its bad enough that Gov Baker already put a 6 mo postponement on the voter-approved bill ( which is also a croc! ) and once I become a MA resident ( should be before end of this Summer as my job transfer is already in the works ) I will do *EVERYTHING* I can to fight for the voter-approved bill to become law *just* as it was passed in the Nov 2016 election! This will definitely include to vote out every politician that pushes a law that is against the will of the people, republican or democrat, and replace them all with PRO-cannabis politicans! After all, this is the will of the populace in the first place!