The Compromise Marijuana Bill Is Finally Done

Here's what would change, and what wouldn't.

Marijuana crop growing indoors via Shutterstock

It’s finally here. After lawmakers blew right past a self-imposed deadline of June 30 to finish its rewrite of the state’s marijuana law, a compromise has been reached.

The compromise bill would increase taxes on sales of the drug, change the way it’s overseen by the state, and amend the way cities and towns can reject pot shops if they so choose.

Here’s what would change, should the bill become law:

  • Taxes on recreational marijuana sold at shops would jump up from 12 to a maximum of 20 percent (the House version wanted a 28 percent tax, while the Senate’s left the tax rate alone).
  • Medical and recreational marijuana will both be overseen by a Cannabis Control Commission.
  • Until 2019, cities and towns that voted against legalizing marijuana would be allowed to ban or significantly limit the number of pot shops that can open in their borders via vote of their Board of Selectmen, rather than a community-wide referendum. Cities and towns that voted for legalization would need to hold a referendum to block pot shops. Here’s a helpful map of how communities voted.

Here’s what wouldn’t change:

  • Adults over 21 would still be permitted to buy, use, and grow marijuana at home.
  • All of the restrictions on the numbers of plants you can grow, or amount of marijuana you can possess, would stay the same.
  • In July of 2018, the first pot shops could open.

Sen. Will Brownsberger put it this way on his website: “The approach is to amend, rather than to repeal and replace.”

In a statement, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the Marijuana Policy Committee co-chair and lead Senate negotiator, applauded the result.

We have protected the right of adults to grow, possess, and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, the bill removes barriers to the development of a legal market. It protects the rights of medical marijuana patients, and gives opportunity to farmers and to people who have been harmed by the War on Drugs. The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country, and the same as in Oregon, often seen as successful.

The House and Senate may hold up-or-down votes on it as early as this week.

In a sign that legal marijuana activists will be getting behind this version of the bill, the group that promoted the ballot question to legalize marijuana released a statement in support of it. Jim Borghesani, Yes on 4’s spokesman, says they haven’t read the bill but that they are “relieved that a compromise has been reached and the regulatory structure can soon start moving forward.”

Borghesani notes that the bill alters the language of the law approved by 1.8 million voters in November, but that the compromise bill changes it far less than would a version that emerged out of the House, which would more than double the tax rate, and, Borghesani argued, “would have added untold difficulties to establishing an effective regulatory system.”

He urged Gov. Charlie Baker to sign it.

Some trouble is lurking, though. As the Globe reports, there is some chatter that it might not be constitutional.