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House Passes Comprehensive Marijuana Legislation

The Mass. House has passed legislation that fully implements consumer access to adult-use marijuana while creating a robust public health and safety framework. It also sets a balanced tax rate to ensure that the costs associated with this new industry are self-financed and do not pose an undue burden on taxpayers.

This legislation maintains the personal use provisions outlined in the 2016 ballot initiative. Adults 21 and older can use marijuana and can possess up to one ounce in public and ten ounces at home. They may possess six plants per person but no more than 12 plants or ten ounces per residence.

“This bill reflects a commitment to legalizing adult-use marijuana while upholding our duty to ensure safety and effective management,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “The House placed a premium on health and safety. In addition to the rigorous product testing and security measures, I believe that the independence of the Cannabis Control Commission will allow this new industry to be implemented in a safe and efficient manner.”

“Last November, voters chose to have safe and regulated access to adult use marijuana”, said Representative Mark J. Cusack, Chair of the Committee on Marijuana Policy. “Our task has been to ensure that we implemented and regulated this new marketplace with common sense consumer protections and public safety measures. This important, bipartisan legislation does just that. It gets it right for the consumers, right for the industry and above all, it gets it right for the people of Massachusetts.”

To promote strong oversight and accountability for the regulation of adult-use marijuana, this legislation creates an independent five-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) which will be housed under the Office of the State Treasurer. The CCC will be charged with overseeing the application and licensing process, including a review of the integrity of licensees, their financial stability and qualifications both during the application process and on an ongoing basis. It will promulgate regulations for the implementation, administration and enforcement of adult-use marijuana, and will make regular inspections of licensees.

The CCC will adopt diversity licensing goals to provide meaningful participation of communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement and development training programs to achieve impactful industry participation by minority individuals, women and veterans.

The House has prioritized consumer safety and public health. As such, this bill includes the strongest testing standards in the nation and gives the CCC oversight of testing laboratories. It requires all labs to be independent from Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) and mandates alignment with pharmacy standards for purity.

Under this legislation, the CCC will consult with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to establish standards for the cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, including guidelines for food products.

The CCC will also establish standards for packaging, potency or dosing limitations, seed to sale-technology and security for cannabis licensees. Requirements include:

  1. Certified child-resistant packaging and opaque containers;

  2. Regulations regarding advertising, marketing and branding, particularly in regards to minors.

  3. Bans retail shops near school zones.

  4. Licensees must have a publicly available software application to track and trace all marijuana cultivated, process, or manufactured, from seed-to-sale.

  5. Edible marijuana products will have a limit of 10mg of THC.

The composition of the CCC reflects the broad expertise and autonomy necessary to regulate this new industry including appointees with expertise in public health, public safety and corporate management. These appointments will be made by the governor, attorney general, treasurer, respectively. Two appointments – industry management/oversight, and law/policy – will be made by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general and treasurer. The Chair of the CCC will be appointed by the Treasurer and the Executive Director will be appointed by a majority vote of the five commissioners.

This legislation includes a thoughtful tax structure designed to balance state and local needs, and to protect taxpayers. The overall tax rate of 28 percent includes:

  1. 16.75 percent state excise tax;

  2. 6.25 percent state sales tax;

  3. 5 percent local excise tax which will be transferred to the host municipality. This tax is designed to help incentivize local adoption.

  4. Medical marijuana will remain untaxed.

Revenue collected from these taxes and application fees (with the exception of the local tax) will go to the newly-created Cannabis Revenue Fund. After funding annual operating costs associated with the adult-use marijuana industry, $50 million from the Fund will be expended annually on substance addiction and prevention programs.

To enhance efficiency and allow for the creation of local bylaws and ordinances, this legislation bolsters local control measures. The governing body of a municipality will be able to vote to prohibit recreational marijuana establishments. Municipalities that have already held referendums will be grandfathered in.

Under this legislation, the medical marijuana program would be updated and brought under the auspices of the CCC. This consolidation will help ensure a timely launch by streamlining oversight and leveraging existing experience and resources.

For the first time, industrial hemp will be statutorily recognized as an agricultural product that may be cultivated, possessed, processed, bought or sold, and researched. MDAR will oversee industrial hemp as an agricultural product. Any person growing industrial hemp must be licensed by MDAR.

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