Several challenges continue to stand in the way of implementing comprehensive legislation on recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, despite a vote to legalize its sale, purchase and use last November.
The only concrete action taken by the state so far has been the creation of the Cannabis Control Commission, an independent agency currently drafting regulations for the legal marijuana industry, the Massachusetts spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project Jim Borghesani said.
Challenges currently facing the implementation of marijuana legislation include lack of adequate funding for the Cannabis Control Commission, local prohibition measures and resistance from state officials, he said.
Borghesani said prominent politicians such as Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin Walsh should support the legal marijuana industry and the people who voted for it given the jobs and revenue that it will generate.
“We’re not asking anybody to be a cheerleader,” Borghesani said. “We’re just saying that they should recognize that we’re taking profits away from criminals and putting it in the hands of legitimate businesspeople who pay taxes and who check IDs.”
Borghesani said while the creation of the Cannabis Control Commission is a step in the right direction, a lot more work needs to be done before marijuana legislation can be implemented in Massachusetts.
“After a long delay by the legislature, finally the legislature made sure that this system is moving forward,” Borghesani said. “But everything is waiting now on the Cannabis Control Commission putting together the regulations that will govern the industry moving forward.”
Borghesani said if local prohibition efforts are successful, they could create an imbalance of legal marijuana availability in the state.
“We don’t want to see cannabis deserts, if you will, and then cannabis clusters,” Borghesani said. “We want to see an equal distribution of legal cannabis for purchase so that the criminal market can be undercut across the state.”
Kamani Jefferson, the president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, wrote in an email despite the difficulties faced by the Cannabis Control Commission, he thinks they will meet their deadlines in implementing legislation.
“I feel confident the spring 2018 deadline will be hit,” Jefferson wrote. “Things have been moving fast these last two months.”
Jefferson warned “cannabis deserts” created by local prohibition measures could drive more people to acquire marijuana illegally.
“Widespread bans and moratoriums will leave large regions of the state without retail stores, alluring many residents to continue buying from illicit suppliers in the area,” Jefferson wrote.
Seth Blumenthal, a lecturer at Boston University who teaches a course on marijuana in U.S. history and campaigned for the legalization of marijuana in the state, said many local moratoriums are put in place because residents are afraid of what recreational marijuana might bring to their cities.
“People want it, but don’t really want it in their town, because they’re afraid it’s going to bring them elements that they’re concerned about,” Blumenthal said.
Different states have different legal approaches to marijuana legalization, and Massachusetts’ tradition of social conservatism makes it slower to accept the voters’ wishes and implement marijuana legislation, Blumenthal said.
“Massachusetts is trying to take its time and do it in a way that gives politicians a way to say that they stood up to it, but also to recognize what people want,” he said.
Several Boston residents disagreed on the prudence of legalizing marijuana in the first place.
Eric Soto, 26, of Dorchester, said he supports recreational marijuana legalization because it can eliminate the danger of buying illicit drugs from illegal dealers.
“It stops violence in places where people don’t need to be creating violence and sometimes it could make things easier for people,” Soto said.
Mahrokh Irani, 26, of Fenway, said she thinks legalizing recreational marijuana was a bad idea because there has been no research on its long-term effects on health.
“It has become too easy for people to get it, and there are a lot of people around who don’t really understand the implications of using this from the medical standpoint,” Irani said. “We don’t have enough research done on the long-term ill effects or adverse effects of marijuana.”
Dylan Crawford, 29, of Fenway, said Massachusetts politicians’ unwillingness to move forward in marijuana legislation will ultimately be harmful to the state.
“We’re supposed to be this innovative state but in this area, we’re definitely falling behind and we’re going to lose a lot of income and innovation,” Crawford said.
Solange Hackshaw contributed to the reporting of this article.