State Snippet - Massachusetts

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My home state, Massachusetts! Also known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the “Cradle of Liberty”, Taxachusetts and home of the m@sshole.   MA was a powerful influence in the commercial and cultural development of the United States and a place of many firsts: legally recognizing same-sex marriage, inventing volleyball, creating institutions of higher learning (Harvard) and the first to restrict/criminalize cannabis (“Indian Hemp”) at the state level in 1911. 

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The second largest marijuana reform gathering in the US, the Boston Freedom Rally, has taken place annually on the third Saturday of September since 1989 and has been held on the Boston Common starting in 1992.  Aside from the annual “weed fest” on “The Common” little progress was made between 1911 and 2008 when small amounts of cannabis were decriminalized via the MA Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative.  Legalization occurred in stages: decriminalization -> medical marijuana -> recreational sales to adults 21+. 

In November 2012 63% of voters said yes to Question 3 – MA Medical Marijuana Initiative, making MA the 18th state to legalize MMJ.  As of January 1, 2013 registered, card-holding patients were able to buy up to a 60 day supply of medicine from state licensed dispensaries, of which there were a total of 35 prior to adult-use legalization.  By 2016 voters were ready to take the next step and voted yes on Question 4, legalizing marijuana for adults 21+ despite opposition from the Governor, Speaker of the State House of Representatives, State Treasurer and Mayor of Boston.  Being able to buy cannabis in a dispensary took two years, although there were interim milestones such as the December 2016 provisions for home use and cultivation which stated that adults 21+ can purchase and possess up to 1 oz. of marijuana, grow up to 6 plants (12 for households with 2 or more adults) and gift home-grown cannabis to other adults.

Something else interesting happened in December 2016, Governor Baker signed legislation that extended the start date for recreational sales by six months, from January to July 2018.  On July 28, 2017 an actual law legalizing recreational marijuana sales was signed into effect and contained provisions for higher excise tax, background checks for dispensary employees, an expanded Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), shifting MMJ oversight from the Dept. of Health to the CCC, and rules for town governments to restrict or ban recreational retailers. 

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There were no recreational sales on July 1, 2018, because you can’t grow cannabis in 11 days, the time between when the first cultivation license was granted (06/21/18) and the first schedule day of sales.  Two retailers started accepting recreational customers on November 20, 2018. Despite being closed for the Thanksgiving holiday they sold a combined $2.2M in one week.  By the end of June 2019 there were 20 dispensaries selling medical and/or adult-use marijuana.  The opening of dispensaries came with a variety of complications: long lines, sales by appointment only, satellite parking lots, medical & handicap parking only and shuttles to dispensaries from public transit stations.  Honestly, nothing can just be easy in MA.


Massachusetts cities and towns can:

·         Require permits

·         Block recreational stores from certain areas via zoning by-laws

·         Ban recreational stores entirely*  

As of October 2018 180 of the 351 MA cities and towns had an indefinite or temporary ban on recreational sales.  Recreational and medical retailers must negotiate community host agreements with local authorities who are permitted to assess community impact fees of up to 3% of annual business revenue.  No one has implemented this so far but it is expected to be a factor in additional retailers opening in more communities.

More MA Cannafacts:


·         Total tax on cannabis is 17% – 20%

·         10.75% is excise tax up from the initial 3.75% tax approved by voters in 2016

·         Sales are cash only and you must present a government issued ID

·         Many dispensaries set their own limits on the amount of product that can be purchased, mainly due to supply issues, ensuring there is adequate product for medical patients

·         Draft rules for cannabis cafes (on-site, public consumption) and delivery were issued on June 27th

 *Ban must be approved by local referendum if majority of voters were in favor of Question 4

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