Support the news
Recreational marijuana is becoming legal in Massachusetts — legal, but not readily available.
The ballot question approved by voters Nov. 8 is scheduled to go into effect Thursday, allowing adults to have limited quantities of marijuana for recreational purposes and grow pot plants in their homes. The catch: It's still illegal to sell marijuana in Massachusetts -- except to registered medical marijuana patients -- and will remain so for at least a year until the first pot shops are licensed and regulated.
For now, it's smoke 'em if you got 'em.
"For the average citizen ... this is going to mean they have to wait a while until they can go into a store or facility and purchase marijuana over the counter," said Martin Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Healy and other legal analysts say the lag-time and other provisions in the new law could initially cause confusion for marijuana users and possibly law enforcement, as well.
Recreational pot supporters agree. Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the group RegulateMass, which sponsored the ballot initiative, sees the first year or so as a "gray period" of sorts.
"It is legal to possess," said Borghesani. "It is illegal to sell without a retail license and retail licenses won't be available for quite a while."
States that previously legalized marijuana went through similar transition periods without major problems, he added.
In Colorado, where voters legalized recreational pot in late 2012, marijuana arrests dropped significantly in the 13 months or so it took for the state to regulate the drug and allow the opening of stores.
Voters in California, Nevada and Maine also backed legalization in the most recent election and like Massachusetts, all will experience gaps between the time pot becomes legal to possess and when it can be legally sold to consumers.
Before and after retail sales begin, the list of things you can't do with pot remains a lengthy one.
Norwood Police Chief William Brooks III, who serves as president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, noted that possession of small amounts of marijuana outside the home has been decriminalized for the past eight years in the state, so in that respect the new law "is not a big change," he said.
But the home grow provisions could pose challenges for officers responding to a call at a person's home, Brooks said, as they may need to determine whether the amount of pot being cultivated is within proper limits. He also worries about a potential uptick in motorists driving while under the influence of marijuana.
A closer look at what can and can't be done once the law takes effect:
What Is Legal?
What Isn't Legal?
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.