Massachusetts Becomes First State East of the Rockies to Approve Marijuana Legalization

Press Release November 7, 2016
Media Contact

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<p>Tony Newman, 646-335-5384, [email protected]</p>

Voters in Massachusetts have approved marijuana legalization, making it the first state east of the Rockies to do so.

“Western states have led the way on legalizing marijuana but the victory in Massachusetts powerfully demonstrates that this movement is now bicoastal and soon to be national,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Indeed, I’d wager that the next states to legalize marijuana will also be in the Northeast – and they’ll be the first in the country to do so through the legislature rather than the ballot box.”

Massachusetts’ new law allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their home. The initiative establishes a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. It enacts a 3.75% excise tax on marijuana sales used to pay for the regulatory structure. Additional revenue will be deposited into Massachusetts’ General Fund.

While public consumption of marijuana would not be allowed, if a city or town permits it by vote, this law would allow for the consumption of marijuana on the premises where sold or on a limited basis at special events. The new law provides support for communities disproportionately harmed by the drug war, by requiring the new regulating agency to adopt procedures and policies to promote and encourage full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition and enforcement. It also requires the agency to develop policies to positively impact those communities, such as education, job training, and placement programs.  The law also states that a prior conviction solely for a marijuana-related offense will not disqualify an individual from being employed in the newly legal marijuana industry or from getting a license to operate a marijuana business, unless the offense involved distribution to a minor.

The Drug Policy Alliance and its lobbying arm, Drug Policy Action, supported Massachusetts’ initiative with assistance on the drafting, as well as financial support for the campaign.

By shifting away from counterproductive marijuana arrests and focusing instead on public health, states that have legalized marijuana are diminishing many of the worst harms of the war on drugs, while managing to raise substantial new revenues. A recent Drug Policy Alliance report found that Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues, since the adult possession of marijuana became legal.  At the same time, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.

A nationwide Gallup poll released last month found that a record 60 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to a federal law passed by Congress in 2014 that bars D.C. from pursuing taxation and regulation).

Earlier today, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota passed medical marijuana measures, and voters in California also approved marijuana legalization.

DPA will hold a teleconference tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:30pm ET to discuss the national implications of today’s votes.  California, Maine, Arizona and Nevada are also voting on marijuana legalization, while Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana voted on medical marijuana. 

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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