The race is on. Two Massachusetts lawmakers filed legislation in March that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, tax the drug, and regulate it like alcohol.
Two Democrats introduced the legalization bills, one in the state Senate, the other in the House of Representatives. But the legislation quickly picked up 13 additional sponsors from both sides of the aisle.
H. 1561 would make it legal for adults aged 21 or older to buy, possess, and grow marijuana for recreational use. It would also create a system of licensed pot shops, grow sites, processing facilities, and testing labs.
Could be first to legalize by state initiative
This isn’t the first legislation that would make pot legal, but if it passes in Massachusetts, it could be the first time weed has been legalized by way of a state legislature. Each of the four states that have passed legal marijuana laws did so by way of ballot initiative.
Other states in the Northeast are already considering legal weed proposals. The New York Senate could vote on a bill to legalize, and Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont could each follow suit.
So far all legalization has happened in the American West, with the exception of Washington, D.C., which legalized along with Oregon and Alaska in November. Washington State and Colorado adopted legal weed in 2012.
The bill in Massachusetts was introduced by state Rep. David Rogers and state Sen. Pat Jehlen, both Democrats.
Prohibition has failed
“A century of criminal prohibition has failed to stop the production, distribution and use of marijuana,” the bill says. “Sustained enforcement efforts reasonably cannot be expected to accomplish that aim.”
Massachusetts adopted medical marijuana by a wide margin in 2012, becoming the 18th state to do so. Twenty-three states now allow medicinal cannabis.
In addition to legalizing recreational pot, the proposed law would allow cultivation of industrial hemp, which could become an important cash crop, and would permit pot cafes, which would make Massachusetts the first state to do so. Other states, including Colorado, have run into trouble because they failed to provide for public restaurants or bars where toking is legal.
Children would be protected
Language in the bill would provide protections for children, making it harder for them to get the drug. Dealers caught selling to minors would be fined up to $2,000, while teens or children caught smoking up would be fined $100.
Lawmakers haven’t yet set a proposed limit on possession or cultivation, but the bill would ban the transportation of more than 10 ounces of pot or 10 pounds of products infused with THC, such as edibles.
Importantly, the legislation would expunge the records of people busted for marijuana offenses in the past.
“Such expunged records shall not operate to disqualify a person in any examination, appointment or application for public service in the service of the commonwealth or of any political subdivision thereof,” the legislation reads. “Nor shall such expunged records be admissible in evidence or used in any way in any court proceedings or hearings before any boards or commissions.”