Massachusetts’ recreational marijuana bill causing concern

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A sharply divided legislative committee in Massachusetts voted Wednesday to advance a bill calling for major changes to the voter-approved recreational marijuana law, including higher taxes on retail sales and handing more control over cannabis shops to municipal officials.

Some lawmakers suggested that as currently written, the proposal would give Massachusetts the highest tax among the eight U.S. states that already have legalized recreational marijuana.

Excessive taxes would discourage people from buying the drug legally and keep illegal marijuana dealers in business, critics said.

The current law calls for a 3.75% excise tax on top of the state’s regular 6.25% sales tax and a 2% local option tax, combining to a maximum 12% tax rate. The proposed legislation calls for a 16.75% excise tax on top of the regular sales tax and a 5% local tax, for a combined 28% tax at point of sale.

But critics said language in the bill that taxes marijuana licensees, possibly resulting from a drafting error, would effectively compound the tax rate to as high as 55%.

Several senators also took aim at a provision that would grant local governing bodies – such as city councils, boards of selectmen or town meetings — the power to ban outright or severely limit retail marijuana stores in their communities. That power rests solely with voters under the current law.

Lawmakers from both chambers agreed on a goal of sending a final bill to the governor by July 1 to avoid further delays in implementing the law.

None of the seven senators on the legislature’s Marijuana Policy Committee – which is weighing revisions to the law that legalized rec marijuana – endorsed the bill Wednesday, and several were openly critical of it.

Several House members agreed to move the bill to the House floor for a potential vote on Thursday but expressed reservations. Six senators voted to reserve their rights on the bill, an indication the Senate may consider a much different version of the measure

– Associated Press