This Wednesday, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a controversial bill that makes significant changes to the voter-approved recreational legalization measure approved by voters last November. The bill was proposed last week, but was kicked back to committee after cannabis advocates expressed their outrage over numerous elements of the new bill. Several amendments were added to address some of these concerns, and the House passed the bill with a 126-to-28 vote.
“From day one, in all of our efforts, the overarching theme has been getting this right for the Commonwealth,” Representative Mark J. Cusack, House chairman of the Legislature’s committee on marijuana, said. “It is often said that you cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and what you have before you is a good omnibus bill that works for the consumers and the industry, but, more importantly, the people of the Commonwealth.”
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill remains intact, namely an increase of the total cannabis tax rate to 28%, a significant increase from the voter-approved 12%. However, other controversial aspects have been addressed by amendments. The original bill allowed regulators “to conduct warrantless searches” of canna-businesses, but an amendment replaced these invasive searches with “regulatory inspections.”
Black and Latino legislators had criticized the original bill for failing to ensure that communities affected by the war on drugs would have a chance to participate in the cannabis industry. The amended bill would mandate that regulators “adopt diversity licensing goals that provide meaningful participation of communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement, including minority business enterprises.”
The Senate is currently debating its own version of the bill, which would keep the tax rate at 12%, as well as preserving other aspects of the original, voter-approved measure. Advocates who supported the push for legalization have expressed their support for the Senate bill, while decrying the House bill as flawed. Once the Senate bill has been passed, both chambers of the Legislature must reconcile the two versions of the bill in a closed committee before sending it to Governor Charlie Baker for his signature.