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Dear Neighbors,

Last month, the House and Senate passed very different
bills about marijuana regulation. The Senate bill was far closer to the law passed by voters last November, on the tax rate, on voters' control over local bans, on social justice and opportunity for people and communities impacted by the War on Drugs. 

Since then, my staff and I have worked intensely with the five other members of the conference committee to resolve the differences between the two bills.  Yesterday we filed our compromise bill, which will be taken up by both chambers tomorrow.

The compromise bill protects the right of adults to grow, possess and use marijuana. To give them access to a safe, legal supply, it removes barriers to the development of a legal market.  It protects the rights of medical marijuana patients and gives opportunity to farmers and to people who have been harmed by the war on drugs.  The tax rate remains among the lowest in the country; it's the same as in Oregon, often seen as a successful state.

This bill helps ensure that adults who want it have access to legal marijuana.  We don't want it to take over 4 years to open 12 retail outlets, as it did for medical marijuana.  Unless people can find a place to buy regulated and tested marijuana, the illicit market will continue to flourish.

  • The bill preserves the voice of the voters.  In the vast majority of communities, the voters supported legalization.  In those communities, any ban or restriction on the number of marijuana establishments greater than those permitted under the ballot question must be approved by referendum.  In communities that opposed legalization, elected officials can ban or severely limit production and sale.   

  • The bill assures that zoning and other regulations will not be used to evade the requirement of voter approval for numeric limits.

  • It allows retailers producers who don't already have medical marijuana licenses to apply without a 1 or 2 year waiting period.

  • It allows up to 3% local tax for communities to allow licenses.  It caps host agreements, allowed by the ballot question, at 3%, requires them to be limited to reasonably related costs, and limits them to no longer than 5 year terms. 

  • In governance, we balanced accountability and independence.  The bill places responsibility for implementation with 3 state officials who will all face re-election in 2018.  They all have an incentive to make sure the law works and a safe legal market is developed.

The bill contains Senate priorities for addressing social justice and remedying the damage to people and communities from decades of arrests and incarceration based on previous marijuana laws.

  • It preserves opportunity for people with non-violent drug offense records to have a second chance as employees in this new, legal industry.  
    It clarifies that people with records of offenses under repealed laws can have their records sealed, and requires a public campaign to inform them of this opportunity.

  • It gives priority to license applicants with demonstrated experience in promoting economic empowerment in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration due to previous marijuana laws.

  • No one will go to jail for possessing small amounts of marijuana, including 18-21 year olds.

  • It includes a provision to use generated funds to provide restorative justice, jail diversion, workforce development and technical business assistance for people in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

The bill contains protections requested by medical marijuana patients.

  • It ensures confidentiality of their records.

  • It allows electronic filing of healthcare provider certifications, allowing immediate access to temporary registration cards and to medical marijuana, instead of waits of up to two weeks.

  • While consolidating operations such as inspections for medical and adult use marijuana, it ensures separate records of license fees and spending in the medical program so that medical fees don’t subsidize the adult use market.

  • It allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as physicians, to recommend marijuana

  • Medical marijuana remains untaxed.

The bill helps farmers and small businesses. 

  • It legalizes the production of hemp, which can be a valuable crop for farmers.

  • It requires the Cannabis Control Commission to develop ways for small producers to form coops, and to establish license fees based on the size.

  • The CCC and the Department of Agriculture will work together to give farmers technical assistance.

  • It eliminates the two-year wait for licenses for cultivators, which advantaged only existing medical operators.

  • It limits the number of licenses in each category to three per entity.

The bill increases protection for public health and safety, and for young people.

  • It gives more specific direction to the Cannabis Control Commission about product labeling, safety, and marketing.  It specifies ways to prevent products from appealing to young people, such as prohibiting edibles that resemble branded consumer products, and prohibiting advertising in media unless more than 15% of its audience is expected to be over 21.  

  • It requires edibles to be marked with the serving size.

  • It prioritizes spending from the marijuana tax to go to public health and public safety campaigns, particularly school based programs.

  • It establishes a commission to study regulation and testing for impaired driving.

The bill raises the excise tax on marijuana to 10.75%.
News reports (in Commonwealth, the Globe, US News, and the Herald)   focus on the tax rate.  The compromise is higher than I wanted. Even more important than the tax rate in reducing the illicit market is having adequate access.  If there are large areas of the state with no retail outlets, the black market will continue to thrive.  The local control provisions make it less likely that communities will ban or unnecessarily restrict sales. 

  • The total state tax will total 17%,  with a 3% local option.
  • Massachusetts marijuana taxes will still be among the lowest among the 8 states that have legalized marijuana.  It will be the same as Oregon, which is seen as among the most successful states.
  • The Department of Revenue estimated that a 10% marijuana specific tax would raise $51 million the first year, $102 million the second year, with $32 million and $64 million additionally going to the general fund from the regular sales tax.  According to their estimates, local sales taxes would bring in $15-30 million to communities.
  • The Treasurer estimated the cost of the new agency at $10 million the first year, and $8 in the second.  We have added new administrative responsibilities
  • Many people are asking if alcohol taxes are too low, compared to the damage caused by alcohol.  The Globe recently pointed out that our alcohol taxes are among the lowest in the country, and 1500 people die here a year from alcohol-related causes (none from marijuana; 2000 from opioids).  Massachusetts taxes alcohol by volume, but it works out to less than 1-2% of the cost.
If you want even more information about this, as usual Sen. Will Brownsberger, who was an incredibly important partner on the conference committee, posted a thoughtful report with FAQs.
So much of the work on this bill -- and everything my colleagues and I do -- is done by our amazing staff.  Matt Hartman, my chief of staff, and Dan Smith, my legislative director and general counsel, worked hundreds of hours meeting with advocates, reading, writing, rewriting, reviewing, rewriting, and providing strategic as well as legal advice.  I am so fortunate to have them as well as the rest of my wonderful staff, who deserve far more credit than they will ever get.
From State House News:

One reporter asked if the idea of respecting the will of the voters came up during negotiations.

"Too much," [House Majority Leader Ron] Mariano replied.

"Just about the right amount," Jehlen said.
 

As always, let me know your thoughts on this and other concerns.  I'll be glad to be able to spend more time now on the many other issues that confront us all.

                                                                   Best wishes for a happy summer,
Copyright © *Committee to Re-Elect Pat Jehlen, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
CTE Pat Jehlen, 67 Dane St, Somerville MA 02143

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