Bill would establish a tax on cannabis industry in Massachusetts
BOSTON, MA — A Massachusetts legislator’s bill to legalize and tax cannabis in the Bay State was reviewed by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on Tuesday, with testimony from supporters lasting well into the evening. Although the bill received very little testimony in opposition, it is unlikely that the legislature will act on it this session, says the bill’s sponsor.
Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst), sponsor of House Bill 1371, testified that revenue generated from legal marijuana sales could be a boost to the state coffers at a critical time when state agencies are facing severe budget cuts.
Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in 2008, with over 65% of votes in favor. Since then, criminal penalties for those caught possessing marijuana being replaced by a $100 civil fine, the equivalent of a parking ticket, but very few citations are written proportionately to the number of marijuana smokers in Massachusetts.
Legalizing marijuana would allow the state to generate much needed tax revenue for the cash-strapped Bay State by taxing all cannabis sales, instead of issuing a fine to those few that get caught.
“The state needs to make money,” Rep. Story testified. “This would allow the state to benefit from marijuana by regulating it.”
Story, who has taken a pro-legalization stance since 70% of her constituents voted in favor of legalizing marijuana in a non-binding public policy question in 2010, would like to see more of her colleagues follow suit.
“There are a number of legislators who said to me privately that they think it is an excellent idea, but they are nervous about saying it publicly,” Story said. “Nobody wants to be seen as soft on drugs.”
But progressive Massachusetts voters have long approved of marijuana reform. Last November, a DAPA Research poll conducted for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition (MassCann), the state chapter of NORML, found that 58% support legalizing marijuana and regulating it like other agricultural commodities with sales prohibited to underage persons.
“Massachusetts voters are more ready than voters in any other state to end prohibition and establish reasonable regulation of cannabis cultivation and commerce for all purposes,” said Steven Epstein, a founder and former officer of MassCann.
“It is important to recognize legal vendors will card customers and keep it out of the hands of children,” added Cara Crabb-Burnham, a member of MassCann/NORML’s board of directors.
Story’s bill would also legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in Massachusetts. When one supporter testified in support of the benefits of hemp products, members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary were shocked to learn that these items were purchased legally from the local grocery store.
Massachusetts voters will vote on legalizing medical marijuana in November, and proponents believe the bill will pass with over 75% approval.