Lawmakers in Boston introduced a bill this week to strike the word “marijuana” from much of its criminal code, and regulate and tax the botanical with a system similar to alcohol.
H. 1561, sponsored by Rep. David Rogers (D-Belmont), Sen. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), and a bipartisan group of 13 co-sponsors, makes it legal for adults 21 years of age and older to possess and grow limited amounts of cannabis. The bill would also establish a regulated system of licensed marijuana retail stores, cultivation facilities, processing facilities, and testing facilities.
If passed, it would be a first for a state legislature. Four states and Washington, D.C. legalized marijuana by popular vote.
Cannabis is the most popular illicit substance in the U.S., and a majority of Americans support its legalization. About 700,000 arrests for marijuana will occur this year. Drug arrests comprise the majority of all police arrests, and marijuana arrests comprise the majority of all drug arrests.
“… a century of criminal prohibition has failed to stop the production, distribution and use of marijuana,” the bill states, “… sustained enforcement efforts reasonably cannot be expected to accomplish that aim.”
The marijuana control regime would be “informed by the success of education and treatment — instead of arrest and incarceration — to reduce adult and adolescent use of tobacco and alcohol, two substances with far greater documented harm to public health than marijuana.”
The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act of 2016 would also legalize industrial hemp and cannabis cafes — fixing a thorny issue in past legalization states.
People caught giving pot to minors could face up to $2,000 in fines and a year in prison. Underage citizens caught with pot would face up to a $100 civil fine.
“Personal” use or cultivation amounts aren’t specified, but you couldn’t transport more than ten ounces of bud or ten pounds of products.
Commercial applications would start at just $500, assuming you have up to $50,000 in escrow and up to $500,000 in insurance per claim.
Cities could ban stores, but the people could call a referendum on that ban with 10 percent of voters’ signatures. Otherwise, cities would have at least one retail store and up to one-fifth the number of liquor stores.
The state would pony up $2.5 million for the regulatory program, and get paid back within 5 years of it plus 15 percent interest, thanks to cannabis taxes. Processors would pay a $10 per ounce sales tax the first year, then $20 per ounce the second year, then $35, and stabilizing at $50 per ounce.
The Act would also let folks expunge their records of marijuana violations, which hold people back from jobs, housing, and much more. “Any person with a criminal record eligible for expungement hereunder may apply to the commissioner, the department or the clerk of court where an expunged record exists, for expedited expungement in compliance with the provisions hereunder, and have the application acted on forthwith.”
“Such expunged records shall not operate to disqualify a person in any examination, appointment or application for public service in the service of the commonwealth or of any political subdivision thereof; nor shall such expunged records be admissible in evidence or used in any way in any court proceedings or hearings before any boards or commissions.”
Furthermore, prisoners serving sentences for expunged offenses may apply to the sentencing court for an order of discharge and release. H. 1561 has been referred to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
“Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society, and it ought to be treated that way,” stated Matt Simon, New England Political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is a mountain of evidence demonstrating marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, less toxic, and less likely to contribute to violent and reckless behavior. Adults shouldn’t be punished for making the safer choice.”
The Marijuana Policy Project plans to support a 2016 ballot initiative to regulate cannabis like alcohol if the legislature fails to pass such a measure sooner.
“Voters in Massachusetts are ready to end marijuana prohibition,” Simon said. “We hope their elected officials are, too. If the status quo is maintained in the legislature, change will occur at the ballot box.”