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Massachusetts Just Legalized. Now What?

Published on November 8, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Faneuil Hall

Congratulations, Massachusetts!

With the adoption of Question 4, here’s what you need to know now that cannabis has been legalized.

First: It’s not legal yet. The actual law will go into effect on Dec. 15, 2016.

As of Dec. 15, adults 21 and older can possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis flower at home, and up to one ounce in public. As for concentrates, those who are of age may possess up to five grams of concentrate. No public consumption in any form is allowed.

Home grown cannabis is allowed as of Dec. 15, but only six plants per person, and plants must not be visible by a member of the public outside the premises.

No delivery services are allowed under Question 4.

Local towns and municipalities have the option to ban local grow operations and/or retail stores, but such a ban may only come about through a full vote of the local people, not just a city council ordinance.

Click to open full-size image in a new tab. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

Click to open full-size image in a new tab. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

Question 4 requires the state to create a Cannabis Control Commission, which will exercise general supervision and regulatory authority over the state’s cannabis industry. The Commission will consist of one commissioner and two associate commissioners who will be appointed by the state treasurer. No more than two members of the commission may be of the same political party.

Under the authority of the commission, there will also be a Cannabis Advisory Board, made up of 15 people appointed by the governor. The Advisory Board should contain a wide range of expertise: one member will be an expert in cannabis cultivation, while one will be an expert in cannabis testing, etc.

The new law requires the Cannabis Control Commission to begin accepting applications for cannabis testing facility licenses by October 1, 2017, while licenses for experienced cannabis establishment operators (dispensary license, marijuana retailer, product manufacturer, and cultivator) will also be accepted no later than October 1.

If the Cannabis Control Commission fails to adopt regulations necessary for the implementation of this law on or before Jan. 1, 2018, existing medical marijuana treatment centers may begin to possess, cultivate, process, manufacture, package, purchase or otherwise begin selling recreational cannabis to anyone 21 and older.

When the Commission receives an application, it will send a copy of the application to the city or town in which the cannabis establishment is to be located. They will then determine whether the applicant and the premises qualify for the license and has complied with this chapter and, within 90 days, be issued an appropriate license, or be informed of the rejection, and why the application was rejected.

Not everyone will be happy with the results of the election, and it’s unclear whether elected state officials will implement the law as the voters want, or whether they will “slow walk” the implementation process and drag it out for months and years. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh all came out strongly opposed to cannabis legalization, even producing a joint statement to denounce legalization efforts.

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Massachusetts’ adult-use cannabis tax will be the lowest in the nation. The rate set by Question 4 is 3.75 percent. Washington state has an excise tax set of 37 percent. Colorado’s tax is 29 percent, and California just legalized with a 15 percent cannabis tax.

License Fees

For an initial application: $3,000
For a license for a retail cannabis store: $15,000
For a license for a cannabis product manufacturer: $15,000
For a license for a cannabis cultivator: $15,000
For a license for a cannabis testing facility: $10,000


This act will take effect on December 15, 2016.

Commission will begin accepting applications for Cannabis testing facility licenses, by October 1, 2017.

Experienced marijuana establishment operator—cultivator, product manufacturer, and retailer license by October 1, 2017.

Until Jan. 1, 2018, the commission shall issue licenses first to applicants with the most experience operating medical marijuana treatment centers and then by lottery among qualified applicants.

On and after Jan. 1, 2018, the commission shall issue licenses by lottery among qualified applicants.
If cannabis control commission fails to adopt regulations necessary for implementation before Jan 1, 2018, each MMJ dispensary can sell recreational cannabis to adults 21 and older.

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Gage Peake
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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