Mass. legislation would sharply curb marijuana law
The right of Massachusetts adults to possess and grow marijuana would be sharply curbed, and the ability of retail shops to begin selling it for recreational use next year would be deeply undercut if legislation filed Friday by a key state senator becomes law.
Senator Jason M. Lewis is proposing bills that would reduce the amount of marijuana people 21 years and older could possess in their home from 10 ounces to 2 ounces, and the number of marijuana plants people could grow from 12 per household to six per household. The current right of adults to possess and use marijuana wouldn’t be eliminated.
The bills would delay when retail marijuana stores — set to open in July 2018 — could sell popular infused products such as pot brownies, sodas, and massage oils by at least two years.
They would also allow regulators to permanently ban any marijuana products besides the unadulterated plant matter itself. Such products are hugely popular in states that have retail marijuana stores.
And the bills would exponentially increase the power of city and town governments to reject marijuana establishments, a measure many municipal officials have urged. (Currently, the law says that if they want to stop a particular type of establishment from coming to town — for example, cultivation facilities — they must go to the voters.
City and town officials also need to hold a referendum if they want to sharply limit the number of marijuana shops. If a city has 100 retail stores that sell alcohol, for example, it will need to go to voters if it wants fewer than 20 marijuana retailers.)
Together Lewis’s bills would fundamentally change key aspects of the law 1.8 million voters put on the books on Nov. 8. The adjustments could be met with cheers from many state officials, who see the law as deeply flawed. For example, they worry that 10 ounces of marijuana is an enormous amount for an average household.
Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who was a strong opponent of the Massachusetts legalization ballot question, said lawmakers must respect the will of the voters. But in a statement he said he is committed to “responsibly and safely implement[ing] a legal recreational marijuana market in Massachusetts.”
In a short telephone interview with the Globe, Lewis said voters were making their voices heard on legalizing marijuana, not the nitty-gritty details of the law or how, exactly, legalization would be implemented.
Those specifics, he said, are the responsibility of the Legislature and the executive branch.
“I think that when the voters voted on Nov. 8, they voted to make it legal and safe to possess, use, purchase, sell, and to grow marijuana, including in their own homes,’’ Lewis said.
“I don’t believe that people were voting on things like whether you should be able to homegrow three plants, or six plants, or 12 plants,” he said. Or whether the marijuana tax rate was 3.75 percent or 5 percent or 12 percent.
“It’s in everybody’s best interest, including the advocates,” Lewis said, “that we do this right in Massachusetts and we do this in a way that is safe and that protects public health and safety.”
He said he wants Massachusetts to be a national model for how to do pot legalization right.
Most bills never become law, but what Lewis filed carries special weight. That’s because he’s seen as the Legislature’s top authority on the recreational marijuana industry and likely to be the cochairman of a new Senate-House committee on the drug.
Other lawmakers have also filed marijuana-related legislation, including a measure to increase municipal control and one that would raise the legal age for purchasing it to 25.
Advocates are crying foul about much of what the senator proposed.
“Many of the bills filed by Senator Lewis show little respect for the 1.8 million Massachusetts voters who decided to end prohibition in the Commonwealth,” said Jim Borghesani, a leader of the 2016 initiative, who currently represents the national Marijuana Policy Project in Massachusetts.
“These proposals go too far in unwinding the will of the people and provide further evidence that Senator Lewis, who was a leading opponent of Question 4, would be an inappropriate choice to chair the proposed special committee on marijuana,” he said.
Notably, Borghesani added, the Marijuana Policy Project “will commit resources to preserving the will of the voters.” Backers of legalization spent millions of dollars to pass and implement such measures across the country.
Among Lewis’s 14 bills are several likely to be embraced by both sides of the recreational marijuana debate.
One would create a research program to track and monitor the social and economic impact of marijuana legalization. Another would mandate requirements for packaging marijuana and related products — packages would have to be gray, opaque, and child resistant, and couldn’t have any cartoon characters or bright colors.
Yet another would create campaigns to educate youth about the dangers of using marijuana and adults about responsible use of the drug. Those campaigns would be funded with money from taxes on marijuana sales.
In December, with just a few legislators present, the Senate and House passed a bill delaying the likely opening date of retail marijuana shops from January to July 2018. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who campaigned against legalization, signed that legislation into law.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo both have voiced support for changing the marijuana law to better protect public health and safety.
Friday was a key filing deadline for legislation on Beacon Hill. The two-year legislative session began Jan. 4.