Marijuana is legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for both medical and recreational use. Under Massachusetts Regulations, the Commonwealth mandates that an individual over the age of 21, with a valid government-issued ID card or a medical use of marijuana program card may purchase, use, or possess limited quantities of marijuana. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts prohibits the use of marijuana in public areas, federal properties, and designated non-smoking areas.
The Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative (Question Three on the 2012 Ballot) was approved by 63% of the Commonwealth's voters. This led to the passage of the 2012 Act titled An Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana. The Act went into effect on January 1, 2013. It permits anyone with a debilitating medical condition, a physician's recommendation, and a medical marijuana program card to use or possess limited quantities of marijuana. The Act further limits patients or caregivers to possess or cultivate a 60-day supply or 10 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes. Per the Act, qualifying patients are also empowered to nominate two caregivers who would administer, purchase, or cultivate marijuana on their behalf.
According to 935 CMR 501.027 of the medical marijuana law in Massachusetts, patients may apply for the Hardship Cultivation Program. This program permits patients or their caregivers to cultivate a 60-day supply of marijuana for medical use. To be approved for hardship cultivation, the patient must prove that their access to acquire marijuana from a registered Marijuana Treatment Center (MTC) is limited by any of the following situations:
Financial hardship or individual whose income does not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level
The inability of both patient and caregiver to access reasonable transport to an MTC or the absence of an MTC that offers delivery services.
In the first year, the medical marijuana law approved the creation of 35 non-profit marijuana dispensaries across the Commonwealth. It also stipulated that no particular county would have more than five dispensaries. However, it indicated that more marijuana dispensaries would be approved based on recommendations from the Cannabis Control Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
In 2016, the recreational use of marijuana was legalized at the ballot, through the Massachusetts Marijuana Legislative Initiative (Question Four). This initiative was approved by 53% of the Commonwealth's voters. The law permits adults over the age of 21 to use, distribute, cultivate, transport, and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. It further restricts the use of marijuana to the confines of personal homes and rented spaces, except where prohibited by landlords. The law also permits the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for private use by residents. However, the plants must be grown out of public view and in compliance with local municipal laws.
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the purchase of marijuana is highly regulated. All marijuana purchases in the Commonwealth require residents to present government-issued identification cards. There are various taxes imposed on recreational marijuana purchases. Note that all recreational use marijuana purchases are cash-only transactions according to state laws. However, the sale of medical use marijuana is tax-exempt provided the patient has their Massachusetts Medical Use of Marijuana Program Card and a valid government-issued identification card. All medical use of marijuana purchases must also be verified and registered on the Medical Use Marijuana Portal by the marijuana establishment making the sale.
Finally, felons are permitted to purchase marijuana for recreational or medical uses, provided such purchases are done per Massachusetts regulations.
In Massachusetts, the CCC’s Open Data Platform offers insight to the impact of marijuana on the state’s economy. As of September 2022, the gross sales revenue generated by marijuana establishments in Massachusetts since 2018 is more than $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, medical marijuana treatment centers have also raked in more than $900 million in gross sales revenue. Proponents of Question Four of the 2016 Legislative Ballot Initiative argued that the legalization of marijuana for recreational use would have a positive impact on the Commonwealth's economy. This impact has become visible due to the transfer of revenue and control of the marijuana market from drug dealers to local municipal authorities. Further resulting in reduced expenditure by local law enforcement in fighting drug-related crimes. The economic effects of the legalization of marijuana can be seen in various areas of the Commonwealth's economy. These economic effects include:
Per Massachusetts law, all recreational marijuana sales in the Commonwealth have various taxes imposed on them. These include a retail tax rate of 6.25% and an excise tax of 10.75%. The law also permits municipalities to impose a 3% tax on the total annual revenue earned by retail outlets in their respective municipalities. Some of the 351 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts also have "benefit pacts" with marijuana establishments which has resulted in additional revenue for such municipalities.
Annual tax reports from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue shows that the state’s Marijuana Regulation Fund (MRF) has realized more than $330 million since retail stores opened in 2018.
|Fiscal Year||MRF Revenue||MRF Revenue to Date||Marijuana Sales to Date|
Effects on Income and Jobs
According to estimates from the 2018 WM policy document titled, Developing Local Cannabis Policy in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts marijuana industry could create 14,791 direct jobs, while supporting 6,360 jobs in related sectors. These figures are evident from the CCC Data, which shows that more than 24,000 registered agents are currently employed by marijuana establishments. While the state is dedicated to ensuring social equity, 69.5% of the active agents are Whites; 9.2% are Hispanic/Latino, and 7.1% are African Americans.
The Massachusetts seed-to-sale inventory system ensures that all marijuana sold in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is grown locally. This guarantees numerous job opportunities for various categories of workers including blue-collar, white-collar, and specialist job functions to drive growth in the Massachusetts marijuana industry. Note that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts focuses on empowering individuals from communities that were disproportionately affected by previous marijuana laws, women, and individuals with disabilities by encouraging ownership or employment in marijuana establishments. Out of 1500+ approved and pending marijuana license applications, 14.5% are minority-owned businesses, 11.2% are from women-owned businesses, 2.8% are from veteran-owned businesses, and 0.9% are from disability-owned businesses.
The impact of marijuana on employment is also evident from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment statistics. In August 2020, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts was 10.6% as close to 400,000 residents were unemployed. As of August 2022, the state’s unemployment was down to 3.6% and it is expected to decline even further as more marijuana establishments get approved by the Cannabis Control Commission.
The increase in marijuana tax revenue in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been accompanied by an increase in the Commonwealth's government expenditure. Sales tax revenues that have been generated in the General Fund and the School Building Authority Funds have provided the government a lot more revenue to be utilized in developmental projects in the Commonwealth. Cannabis excise tax deposited with the Marijuana Regulation Fund has been pivotal in funding the operations of all the state regulatory agencies that regulate the cannabis industry in the Commonwealth. The revenue from the cannabis excise tax is also used in funding various health, security, and social justice programs in the Commonwealth.
According to Massachusetts Crime and Statistical Data, there has been a reduction in drug and marijuana-related crimes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This decline is largely due to the legalization of possession of small quantities of marijuana. The Massachusetts Crime and Statistical Data showed that the majority of marijuana arrests before its legalization were for possession and many of these arrests led to imprisonment. However, since the legalization of marijuana in the Commonwealth, there has been a reduction in incarcerations.
Massachusetts legislation titled, An Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana legalized marijuana in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This has led to a decline in drug-related offenses and arrests in the Commonwealth.
According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer system, law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth reported 5,961 drug-possession arrests in 2017 (before marijuana legalization); 233 of these arrests were for possession of illegal quantities of marijuana. After marijuana legalization, the total drug possession arrest figures went down to 5,082 in 2019. Illegal marijuana possession arrests figures stood at 213 in the same year. This decline continued even further until 2021, with total drug possession related arrest figures at 3,306 and only 71 were for marijuana possession arrests.
Similarly, drug sale and marijuana sale arrests have also seen a steady decline over the years. In 2017, there were a total of 3,869 drug sale arrests in the Commonwealth, and 456 of these arrests were for illegal marijuana sale. After adult-use legalization, the figures went down in 2019 to 3,343 drug arrests, with only 456 of them being marijuana sale-related arrests. Also, in 2020 and 2021, illegal marijuana sale arrests figures were 234 and 148 respectively.
Massachusetts has had over a decade-long history of enacting marijuana reform measures statewide. Most of these reforms have been spearheaded by voter ballot initiatives. The Commonwealth's legislators have also been critical in enacting these legislative changes and facilitating the transition from obsolete prohibitive policies to safe, responsible, and successful marijuana legalization.
In 2008, Massachusetts voters, through a ballot initiative passed Question Two (Possession of Marijuana), to decriminalize marijuana possession in the Commonwealth. This ballot initiative was approved with 63% of the Commonwealth voters being in favor of the law. Question 2 became law in January 2009 with the passage of An Act Establishing A Sensible State Marijuana Policy. In 2012, through another voter ballot led initiative, the Commonwealth also passed Question 3, (Medical Use of Marijuana) into law. This legislation authorizes the medical use of marijuana to treat certain debilitating illnesses such as cancer, parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis. This initiative was favored by 63% of voters of the Commonwealth and it later became law in January 2013 as An Act of the Humanitarian Use of Marijuana. The medical use of the marijuana program has seen tremendous growth over the years, and as of 2018 had over 48,265 registered patients, 241 registered providers, and 24 functional registered dispensaries.
Finally, in 2016, Massachusetts voters once again voted on Question 4 (Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana). This initiative also passed at the ballot with 54% of the votes. However, the implementation of this legislation was postponed to allow the legislation to come up with a better regulatory framework to implement the law. In July 2017, a comprehensive legislation, An Act to Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana was passed further strengthening the industry's policy framework for both medical and recreational use of marijuana. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Baker on the 28th of July 2017.
In March 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission issued final regulations on the use of medical and recreational use marijuana. They also started a licensing application process in April of 2018. This was followed by the appointment for the board of the Cannabis Control Commission in August 2017. The first adult-use marijuana licenses were issued in July 2018.
Cultivation of marijuana in the United States, the early 17th century.