The right to grow marijuana for personal use was a key feature, not an expendable footnote, of the Massachusetts legalization referendum that passed on Election Day. Lawmakers are rightly considering various tweaks to technical details of the complicated new marijuana law, but they shouldn’t block the home-growing provision or any of the law’s other essential features from taking effect on Dec. 15.
Under the new law, Massachusetts residents can grow up to six marijuana plants if they follow a set of restrictions, including keeping them out of sight. But critics fear that legal home-growers will feed the black market in neighboring states where marijuana remains illegal. A few lawmakers are now pushing to delay legalization of home growing.
But a person bent on breaking the law in other states is probably already growing marijuana in Massachusetts, and will probably ignore the six-plant limit anyway. If the experience of Colorado is any guide, growers obeying the limits in the law aren’t the problem; it’s illegal growers violating that state’s per-person limits who ship out of state. And even if a few Massachusetts residents do send their harvest out of state, it’s hard to see why taking business away from violent Mexican drug cartels is so objectionable.
Delaying the home-growing provision would also mean delaying one of the relatively few pro-consumer parts of the referendum. The new pot law, with its low tax rate and insider-friendly restrictions on licensing, was written for and by the nascent marijuana industry. Some of the language — including the newly created cannabis commission’s power to impose a statewide production limit — was explicitly intended to protect the industry. But the right of consumers to grow their own marijuana should act as a check against the companies getting too greedy and entitled.
That’s not to say that the exact language of the referendum must go unchanged forever. Raising the tax rate, and some fine-tuning of the regulatory framework, are both needed. The election of Donald Trump also creates unknowns for Massachusetts; if the new presidential administration departs from the Obama administration’s hands-off attitude toward state-level marijuana legalization initiatives, the Legislature could be forced to navigate a clash with the federal government.
But to the greatest extent possible, the basic outline that voters supported on Election Day by an 8-point margin — the legalization of personal marijuana use, possession, and cultivation — should remain the law of the Commonwealth.
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