By Kristin LaFratta
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday signed the long-awaited compromise marijuana bill into law, even as he voiced his disapproval with the controversial substance that Bay State voters broadly legalized in November 2016.
"I don't support this," Baker said to reporters in his ceremonial office at the State House. "I worry terribly about what the consequences over time will be."
"But look, the people voted this," he added. "And I think it's really important that we put a program in place that delivered a workable, safe, productive recreational marijuana market for them here in Massachusetts."
The rewrite doesn't change personal home-growing and possession limits that went into effect in December 2016.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
The new Massachusetts marijuana law is compromise legislation between the Massachusetts House's attempted overhaul of the original voter-approved law, and the state Senate's bid for slight changes. The House originally pushed for a law that taxed recreational pot at 28 percent, a jump from the voter-approved 12 percent.
Under the new law, recreational marijuana will be taxed 17 to 20 percent, depending where you buy it. The baseline tax is 17 percent, which is determined from a combination of a 6.25 percent sales tax and a 10.75 percent special excise tax on adult use.
But cities and towns can choose to add a three percent tax on top of the 17 percent, tallying up to a 20 percent tax on pot.
"The tax rate, we think, is too high," said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for legalization advocates. "We put it at 12 percent for the specific reason that we wanted to dampen down the illicit market to the greatest extent we could."
But legalization advocates largely backed the compromise bill Baker signed on Friday, having urged him to approve it after they avoided what they referred to as a "repeal and replace" bill proposed by the Massachusetts House.
Medical marijuana will remain untaxed.
The law will create a new Cannabis Control Commission to regulate recreational and medical marijuana.
The Department of Public Health has overseen medical marijuana under the original 2012 voter-approved law, and now the new commission will take it over.
The commission will set "potency limits" on edible marijuana products.
Those regulations will be decided upon in the coming months, and retail pot shops are scheduled to start opening in July 2018.
The new commission will be made up of five members: three appointed by the governor, treasurer and attorney general, while the other two will be agreed upon by those same three officials.
The current state budget sets aside $2 million for the commission.
The commission will receive guidance on regulations from the Cannabis Advisory Board, a 25-member board with at least five members appointed by the governor.
The new marijuana law also affords those who have been convicted of a crime involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana the opportunity to "petition" and seal the conviction in their criminal history.
"The way the law is written prior to this marijuana bill says if there's a crime you were convicted of that is now no longer a crime in Massachusetts, then you can petition to have your records sealed," said state Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat.
Gov. Baker said lawmakers who crafted the compromise bill he signed received a guidance from states like Colorado and Washington, where recreational pot has been legalized for several years. He said legislators in those states were very open to sharing their experiences in marijuana regulations.
"There are a lot of pitfalls," Baker warned.
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