You Asked, We Answered: Here's What You Wanted To Know About Recreational Marijuana

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As marijuana becomes legal in Massachusetts, most of us have lots of questions about how it will work. We asked you to tell us what you’d like to know about the new law, and we got a slew of queries. Here are the answers to some of your questions — and if you've still got some, post them in the comments below.

Many of you asked a version of this question, from Rick Vance:

“I would like to know why, immediately after the election, Mass. officials started doing whatever they could to delay the will of the people.”

Well, Rick, the short answer is because they can. The act approved by 54 percent of voters becomes a law that can be amended like any other. In this case, State House leaders say they have a responsibility to make the law as strong as possible. They’ve said they’ll consider a higher tax rate, measures regarding driving under the influence of marijuana, raising the legal age from 21 to 25, and potentially pushing back the opening date for stores.

But “it’s going to be a very time limited delay,” says Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

Since marijuana will not be available in stores right away, Jim Meehan asks:

“After 12/15 will it be legal to make street purchases, since the retail outlets won’t be set up until 2018?”

No, marijuana will not be for sale for recreational use in Massachusetts until stores open. The earliest that could happen is January 2018 — though, as we pointed out above, that could be delayed by the Legislature. There’s no plan for street sales except perhaps during outdoor festivals. The new Cannabis Control Commission could issue onetime licenses for public use and sales during such events.

But what if you give, rather than sell marijuana? We got this question from Mañuel Laver:

"How are sequential gifts between actual friends to be distinguished from a sale?”

The act says gifts of up to 1 ounce are allowed. It does not limit the number or frequency of gifts.

We received several questions about buying marijuana in other states and bringing it into or having it mailed to an address in Massachusetts. Buying in states where weed is illegal is still illegal, as is sending it through the mail. But there is nothing in the law that says you’ll have to prove where you got the marijuana you have in your possession — as long as it's under the max of 1 ounce in public, 10 ounces at home.

Your gifts of 1 ounce might come from homegrown plants. We got several questions about the rules for home-growing and where to get seeds or plants. The act says each person is allowed six plants, up to 12 per household if more than one adult lives there. Plants must be in a locked area and not visible to the public. Seeds are available online.

A few of you asked about how the new law taxes recreational marijuana, including this question from an anonymous user:

“What will be the tax rate? Will it cover the costs of managing this new law? A benefit for the state would be nice, but where would it go?"

As written, a buyer would likely pay a 12 percent tax. That includes the 6.25 percent sales tax, a new 3.75 percent marijuana excise tax, and a 2 percent local tax. State House leaders have said the marijuana excise tax is low. Supporters of the law say it would raise more than enough money to cover regulation of this new industry. Any excess tax revenue would go into the state’s general fund.

One big area of interest is how the recreational and medical marijuana laws will overlap. One anonymous reader asks:

"What, if anything, will change for current [medical marijuana] card holders? Could current dispensaries be closed or become shops for all?”

As of now, nothing changes for patients registered as medical marijuana users or for the dispensaries licensed to sell cannabis as medicine. The act says medical marijuana dispensaries will have preference when the state begins issuing recreational store licenses. But running a commercial and medical operation from the same counter might be tricky.

The medical business is nonprofit, does not charge taxes, must follow patient privacy rules and is regulated by the state Department of Public Health. The commercial business would charge taxes and be governed by regulations drafted by the state treasurer. Some lawmakers are talking about combining oversight of these two markets under one agency, but there is no such formal proposal.

Looking outside Massachusetts, Wayne Reiss asks:

“Does the supremacy clause allow the fed to nullify state marijuana laws?”

I’m not sure if nullify is the right legal term, but yes, the supremacy clause says federal law takes precedence over state laws. The more practical question may be: Will federal agents enforce federal law on marijuana more actively under President Trump than they did during the Obama administration? There's a lot of speculation about this, especially given Trump's nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, and his well-known opposition to the drug.

Adam and Sean submitted questions about employers and marijuana. From Adam:

“Not talking about showing up at work high, but if you smoke on the weekend, it can still be in your urine for weeks. Can you still be fired?”

Yes, employers can still fire an employee who tests positive for marijuana; the new law does not change that.

And from Sean:

“What does legalization mean for pre-employment and random drug screens at the work place?”

Again, employers retain the right to conduct drug screenings or require them as a condition of employment.

Here are a few more answers to questions you asked:

From Dave:

"Is it legal to smoke on private property if it’s outdoors where others may be able to smell it, like on my back porch?”

Yes it is. Which transitions us to this related question, from an anonymous user:

“Do I have any legal rights to prevent my neighbor’s pot smoke from wafting into my house during the summer and stinking it up?”

This may fall into the evolving category of cannabis etiquette — you can read more about that here.

“Is there any way to change the part that municipalities opted in? (I would rather have default opt-out, active opt-in.)”

Yes, the Legislature could do that and many municipalities will urge them to. That said, some State House leaders have promised not to make substantial changes in the law. This would likely be seen as a substantial change.

“Who/what agency will control the potency of the legalized marijuana? Are doctors being consulted to protect children?”

The act says the state treasurer will appoint a three-member Cannabis Control Commission that will oversee cultivation, product manufacturing and the sale of marijuana. The THC content is supposed to be listed on the product label. The governor will appoint an advisory board. A physician is not one of the required members.

“What will the state do to curb advertising to children? There isn’t anything specific in the proposed law.”

Actually, the law does address this issue. Here’s the section:

reasonable restrictions on signs, marketing, displays and advertising with respect to marijuana, marijuana products and marijuana accessories, including prohibiting marketing or advertising designed to appeal to children

“Now that the ballot question is passed, will farmers be able to grow industrial hemp this year?”


To close, Paula suggests that we use the word cannabis, instead of pot or weed because those words “reflect a drug culture.” Thanks, Paula. Curious to hear what other readers think about the words and their meanings.

This segment aired on December 14, 2016.


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Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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