Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R) signed a new measure Friday, sparking a process by which recreational marijuana will be legal in the state by the year’s end.
Baker’s signature comes nine months after Massachusetts voters, along with voters in three other states, approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana’s recreational use. July of 2018 is the projected time frame for the opening of the state’s first legal pot shops. In total, eight states have now legalized recreational marijuana: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Maine.
“We appreciate the careful consideration the legislature took to balance input from lawmakers, educators, public safety officials and public health professionals while honoring the will of the voters regarding the adult use of marijuana,” Baker said in a statement.
Massachusetts is set to take full advantage of marijuana’s vast economic benefits, increasing sales taxes on legal marijuana from 12 percent to 20 percent in the revised initiative. The state will garner a 17 percent tax while municipalities throw in 3 percent. The state Department of Revenue estimated legal marijuana tax revenues of $83 million in the first year alone, with that number growing to over $200 million in year two alongside projected net sales of the drug of over $1 billion statewide.
Supporters of the ballot initiative, Question 4, which passed in November with a yes vote from 54 percent of voters, have had to endure a significant wait in seeing the legislation implemented. Complicating the Initiative’s administration is a unique provision whereby cities and towns that voted no on Question 4 have legal standing to ban Marijuana stores. Baker, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg (D) have been working to formulate the Cannabis Control Commission, the body that will write rules and regulations for the state’s marijuana industry. They have until Sept. 1 to appoint five members each.
Following the board’s creation, it has until March to produce regulations, and onlookers are hopeful the process will soon take off.
“We take elected officials at their word that there will be no more delays in implementation of the legal sales system,” said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Question 4 campaign.
Massachusetts isn’t wrong to be careful implementing its legal marijuana policy. The state of Nevada showed the dangers of improperly legislating the industry’s projected growth last month, exhausting its marijuana supply less than a month after legal pot shops opened. California plans to unveil legal marijuana stores by January 2018 and Maine is set to follow in February.
Congress will soon need to acknowledge the popular indulgence as the disconnect between state and federal regulatory frameworks widens. According to Governing.com, on top of the eight aforementioned, 18 other states have broadly legalized recreational marijuana. Even the states with the harshest repercussions for possession of the drug, such as Mississippi and Alabama, maintain laws permitting medical marijuana for severe epileptic conditions.
Federal law, however, continues to prohibit doctors from legally prescribing the drug in any circumstance, and lists it as a schedule one drug, along with hallucinogens such as LSD, stimulants such as MDMA, and various opioids and barbiturates. Amphetamines are listed under schedule two.
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