Metro

You asked, we answered: What to know about legalizing marijuana

JR DELIA/NEW YORK TIMES

On Nov. 8, Massachusetts will have the change to legalize marijuana for recreational use through a ballot measure, Question 4.

Want a primer on the measure? The Globe has you covered at http://www.bostonglobe.com/pot

Have more questions? We’ve got your back. Send them to marijuana@globe.com

So if the bill passes, and we can use pot as of December of this year, where can we buy pot to use? — John M.

Advertisement

Aye, there’s the rub! If the referendum passes, starting on Dec. 15, possessing, using, and purchasing 1 ounce or less of marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older. But there’s no mechanism for buying pot for recreational use legally until Jan. 1, 2018.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

So the ballot question will effectively put the marijuana market in a strange legal gray zone for 12½ months. Consumers could buy weed from the black market legally, but dealers selling to them would be breaking the law.

There’s another twist, too. Giving away or otherwise transferring up to an ounce of marijuana without remuneration is legal on Dec. 15, too, as long as the transfer isn’t advertised or promoted to the public. So you can get some weed from the generous dude in an alley, but it would be illegal for him to take money, or its equivalent, in return.

On Dec. 15, adults age 21+ can also grow up to 12 plants per household for personal use. How would anyone legally procure marijuana seedlings? Well, you get the idea.

Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for YES on 4, said the conundrum is unavoidable.

Advertisement

“If we could change the system overnight we would,” he said. “But reality dictates that there’s going to be this transition period. We think the benefits far outweight these temporary costs.”

Borghesani added that Colorado had the same period between when voters’ legalization of the drug went into effect in December 2012 and when retail marijuana stores opened in January 2014.

How does this law address growing pot for personal use? What about hemp? — Allen M.

Growing marijuana for personal use would be legal starting on Dec. 15, if voters greenlight the measure. Adults 21 and older can grow up to six marijuana plants with a limit of a dozen plants per household. That’s a lot of weed.

Hemp, a strain of cannabis that doesn’t have psychoactive THC in it, would become legal on Dec. 15 as well. People have used hemp for thousands of years for everything from food to rope to clothes. The proposed law would give the state’s new Cannabis Control Commission the job of regulating the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of hemp by marijuana establishments. But the ballot measure doesn’t say much else about hemp.

Is it a fait accompli for legalization of marijuana if the referendum passes? Doesn’t the Legislature then have to vote to approve the referendum and the governor sign the bill into law? Isn’t it likely the referendum could pass and it won’t be put into effect? — Josh R.

Should voters pass the referendum, the ballot measure becomes part of Massachusetts law. No further action is needed from the Legislature or the governor.

Advertisement

But, like any other law, the Legislature can change it.

While lawmakers are often hesitant to monkey with the will of the voters, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who supports legalization, said recently that any changes to the law, should it pass, would be focused “on public health and public safety — trying to improve what’s already there.”

He said the Legislature might increase the tax rate (which is low, compared to other states that legalized the drug), improve requirements regarding marijuana-infused edibles like cookies and candy, and create a framework for drugged driving. (Massachusetts law doesn’t have a marijuana impairment standard like it does for alcohol — 0.08 or greater blood alcohol concentration).

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who would appoint the marijuana oversight commission, has said lawmakers should ban home cultivation and delay retail sales of the drug if the proposal passes.

Isn’t the proposed tax lower than the existing sales tax, or is it in addition to sales tax? — Christine P.

If the measure passes, it would create a 3.75 percent tax on marijuana products IN ADDITION to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. And cities and towns could add on another 2 percent tax and keep that revenue. So, in total, the likely tax rate on buying a bag of legal weed for recreational use would be 12 percent. That’s much lower than other states where marijuana is legal. Washington state, for example, has a 37 percent tax on pot — and that doesn’t include sales tax.

Send your questions about the effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use to: marijuana@globe.com Please let us know if you are okay with us printing your question and using your first name and the first letter of your last name.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.