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Massachusetts marijuana leaders draft bill to protect legality in state

Massachusetts cannabis industry leaders are currently drafting legislation that would prohibit state and municipal employees from cooperating with federal investigators intending to prosecute legally-operating marijuana businesses under state law.

The bill, titled “The Refusal of Complicity Act,” is being written in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent statement revoking the Cole memo, an Obama-era policy that barred federal intervention in the state-wide legalization of marijuana, said Jim Borghesani, the Massachusetts spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Following Sessions’ action, Massachusetts District Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement he could not guarantee the immunity of cannabis businesses from federal prosecution.

The bill has not yet been released, but it main clause will ensure Massachusetts maintains its solidarity in curbing federal intervention in legal cannabis commerce, Borghesani said. If state or local employees cooperate with federal investigators, they will be subject to a lawsuit under this bill.

“So if there’s a scenario — it might be that the federal government decides they are going to charge a legal operator with a crime — no local police agency would be able to participate in that operation in any way whatsoever,” Borghesani said.

Will Luzier, the Massachusetts political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said there may also be an additional section of the bill prohibiting state engagement in civil enforcement. Civil enforcement refers to a procedure in which authorities seize and sell land used for marijuana commerce even when the operator hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

The bill’s working group, led by cannabis attorneys Richard Evans and Michael Cutler, plans to complete the bill in the coming weeks, after which they will seek sponsorship from state legislators, Borghesani said.

Similar bills are being considered in the California state legislature and Congress.

Borghesani said ultimately, the federal threat to the cannabis industry will likely be temporary, due to the widespread nature of the marijuana legalization effort in Massachusetts and other states.

I think this is more than anything, just a temporary concern,” Borghesani said. “I think that the legalization movement has had such momentum, that neither Jeff Sessions nor anyone else in the federal government is ultimately going to be able to stop the inevitability of cannabis legalization in more states.”

Kamani Jefferson, president of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, said he hopes a legislative measure will clarify the state of cannabis commerce in Massachusetts.  

[There’s] just a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty around what’s going on between the U.S. attorney general and what the state law says,” Jefferson said. “I think this legislation will help clarify what can and can’t be done in the commonwealth because the U.S. attorney general has prosecution powers but doesn’t create legislation.”

Moreover, Jefferson said the right to cannabis use must be protected because Massachusetts residents have repeatedly voted in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

Constituents have voted time and time again, and they want legalized cannabis,” Jefferson said. “[This bill] would just send that message that this is what we want, and we are willing to take legal action to protect our rights as constituents.” 

Several Boston residents expressed mixed sentiments about the state of legalized marijuana in Massachusetts.

Brian Burns, 24, of Allston, said he supports the idea of legislation preserving the legality of marijuana in the state.

“It sounds good in theory,” Burns said. I feel like it’s nice if Massachusetts could take the initiative if they think the dispensaries and the companies are going about it in an ethical way.”

Collin Perciballi, 28, of Brighton, said while he supports marijuana legalization, he doesn’t think states should be able to violate federal law.

“I’m for cannabis legalization, but I’m not for states violating federal law,” Perciballi said. “It’s federal law so they have to comply with [it].”

Hema Chug, 30, of Allston, said she thinks Massachusetts should defend the people’s right to cannabis use.

I support the use of cannabis for recreational purposes, so I totally support if Massachusetts wants to defend the people’s right to have recreational or medicinal marijuana,” Chug said. “People voted for it in the last election, so I think the federal government should abide what people’s opinion is about this matter and then, it shouldn’t intervene.”



  1. I would ENCOURAGE the federal government to prosecute those businesses involved in the sale of marijuana that are located within the 1000 feet drug free safety zone. T
    The set back, boundary— for safe zones, drug free zones and youth/schools is 1000 feet. This is a federal standard.CO, ME, OR, WA and NV all kept the zone at 1000 feet. WA has an option for municipalities/cities to reduce this. I think ME does also. These states did not require municipalities/cities to be in violation of federal standards. Massachusetts mandates all municipalities/cities that voted for legal adult use to be in violation of federal safety zones for youth/children unless they go to the expense, time and effort to hold a public vote. This is irresponsible. The close proximity to youth/schools will create even a greater risk than the legal access for adults does in isolation. Such close proximity is against the recommendations of numerous public health marijuana policy groups. I have attached one such group’s recommendations.

    Oregon has the second lowest high school graduation rate in the country. The legalization of marijuana is considered to have contributed to this decline. Despite their zone being held at 1000 feet. Washington has the third highest rate of middle school drop out in the country. The rate increased after the legalization of adult use of marijuana. That zone is also at 1000 feet. Both states express regret in not having invested heavily in education and prevention before the legalization of adult use of marijuana.

    Massachusetts is not investing in marijuana related education or prevention at this time. And even worse Massachusetts is setting up the circumstances of much greater exposure to marijuana than other states…. by mandating that municipalities/cities allow placement inside the recognized drug free safety zones by one half. The allowance of placement of adult use recreational retail sales as close as 500 feet is irresponsible and places youth at risk.

  2. I assume the objectively more harmful drug alcohol is also banned within 1000 feet of schools, etc. I have much doubt regarding the declining graduation rate claim.

    Colorado has not experienced the surge in teen use predicted by prohibitionists:

    Past Month Colorado High School Cannabis Use
    2009: 24.8%
    2011: 22.0%
    2013: 19.7%
    2015: 21.2%
    [SOURCE: 2009 and 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results – Colorado High School Survey Summary Table; 2013 and 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Results – Colorado High School Summary Tables]

    Past Month National High School Cannabis Use
    2009: 20.8%
    2011: 23.1%
    2013: 23.4%
    2015: 21.7% (*no statisically significant change)
    [SOURCE: CDC – Trends in the Prevalence of Marijuana, Cocaine, and Other Illegal Drug Use National YRBS: 1991— 2015]

    Past Month Colorado Middle School Cannabis Use
    2011: 6.0%
    2013: 5.1%
    [SOURCE:Overview Of The 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey: Middle School; Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Middle School Overview of 2013 Data]

    Colorado School Drug Expulsions:
    2011-2012: 718
    2012-2013: 614
    2013-2014: 535
    2014-2015: 446
    2015-2016: 142
    2016-2017: 97

    Colorado School Drug Violators Referred to Law Enforcement:
    2011-2012: 1,951
    2012-2013: 1,921
    2013-2014: 1,823
    2014-2015: 1,160
    2015-2016: 311
    2016-2017: 232

    Colorado School Drug Suspensions:
    2011-2012: 4,561
    2012-2013: 4,319
    2013-2014: 4,714
    2014-2015: 4,529
    2015-2016: 1,579
    2016-2017: 1,006

    [SOURCE: Colorado Department of Education – 10-Year Trend Data: Colorado State Suspension and Expulsion Incidents]

    Colorado School Dropout Rate:
    2011-2012: 2.9% (12,256 dropouts reported)
    2012-2013: 2.5% (10,664 dropouts reported)
    2013-2014: 2.4% (10,546 dropouts reported
    2014-2015: 2.5% (11,114 dropouts reported
    2015-2016: 2.3% (10,530 dropouts reported
    [SOURCE: Colorado Department of Education – Dropout Data for 2011-16 – Historical Overview]