Massachusetts Officials Try to Raise Retail Marijuana Tax

Massachusetts Officials Try to Raise Retail Marijuana Tax

A sharply divided legislative committee has voted to advance a bill that makes major changes to the voter-approved recreational marijuana bill, including higher taxes and more control for local officials over pot shops in their communities.

The current law calls for a 3.75 percent excise tax on top of the state's regular 6.25 percent sales tax and a 2 percent local option tax, combining to a maximum 12 percent tax rate.

The bill allows to MA cities and towns to block aspects of the marijuana law through a vote of the city council and approval of the city or town's chief executive, like a mayor or town manager, rather than the referendum process laid out in the voter-approved law.

The Marijuana Policy Committee will meet at noon on Wednesday to vote on the marijuana bill that is expected to go before the full House on Thursday.

MA lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker have already made changes to the voter-approved law: In January, they signed off on a six-month delay on retail pot shops, pushing the date to July 2018.

Marijuana legalization advocates were furious over some of the proposed changes to the law outlined in the draft bill circulated a day before Wednesday's scheduled committee meeting.

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"The tax rate is going to be so high that it's going to encourage the blackmarket to continue", he said.

With many differences clearly still remaining on Beacon Hill over how to respond to last November's vote to legalize marijuana, Welch said the goal is to get a final bill to Gov. Charlie Baker's desk by July 1st.

The voter-approved law requires a community-wide referendum to outlaw pot shops.

Jonathan Napoli, a cultivation consultant for a medical dispensary and the owner of Boston Gardener, a hydroponic and organic gardening supply store in Roxbury, said the bill being pulled is good news.

The proposed tax rate will be highest in the country, she added, a remark that prompted the House chair of the committee, Braintree's Mark Cusack, to shake his head and purse his lips.

"Earlier Wednesday, the state Senate's point person on marijuana policy, Senator Patricia D. Jehlen, blasted the House bill, saying it directly assaults the will of the voters and is a prescription for increasing the illicit market".

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But under the House bill, voters would have had no direct say on the issue.

"The House proposal in no way improves the measure passed by voters", Borghesani said in a statement.

Lawmakers have said they want to strike a balance between creating an appropriate revenue stream for the state without encouraging the continuation of a black market for marijuana. "They wanted to take marijuana commerce away from the illicit market, put it in the hands of regulated, tax-paying businesses".

Sources told the News Service that Senate leadership does necessarily agree with the direction the House is moving on all key elements of the bill, and may be likely to rewrite portions before it emerges for a vote in that branch.

"The House proposal not only disrespects the will of the voters", Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the group, told in an email.

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