Proposed changes to marijuana law include higher taxes, more local control

BOSTON — Lawmakers reviewing Massachusetts' new recreational marijuana law recommended sharply higher taxes and more control for city and town officials over pot shops in their communities.

“I believe it will ensure we don't trade a criminal justice problem, which we certainly have today, for instead a public health problem,” said State Sen. Jason Lewis.

>>Read the full proposed bill here

The proposal would more than double the tax rate from a maximum of 12 percent to a mandatory 28 percent, expected to begin in mid-2018. Massachusetts is one of eight states where recreational use is legal and the 28 percent tax would be the highest in the country.

Supporters of the House bill said it's better for the taxes to be high than too low, and that the laws about marijuana need to be in the best interest of having a diverse marketplace across the state. But critics say a higher tax will allow the black market to thrive.

“I think that this tax rate only reaffirms and I would argue could strengthen the black market that we're trying to stop,” said Sen. James Elridge.

>>MORE: House leaders seek pot tax more than double amount approved by voters

The measure would allow cities and towns to reject the licensing of pot shops in their communities by a vote of their local governing body -- such as a city council or town meeting.

“I wasn't expecting such a major rewrite,” said Jim Borghesani from Yes on 4.

Borghesani calls the proposed changes draconian and not what people in Massachusetts fought for.

“Why even have a committee if you’re going to come out with a one-sided bill and just ram it through the House.  Ram it through like we saw today,” he said.

The current law requires a voter referendum to outlaw pot shops in a community.