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Will legalized marijuana in Massachusetts inspire Rhode Island to follow suit?



Legal adult marijuana sales will begin in Massachusetts Tuesday, with retailers in Northampton and Leicester reportedly set to be the first to open. The state is the seventh in the nation to establish a regulated marijuana market for adults.

Marijuana policy reform advocates say they are hopeful it will set an example for Rhode Island and other New England states, where lawmakers are expected to consider similar legislation next year.

“New England’s first regulated marijuana market for adults is now up and running in Massachusetts,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a member of the Regulate Rhode Island coalition. “It’s only a matter of time before more states in the region follow its lead. Rhode Islanders are ready to move forward with a similar system, and it’s time for Rhode Island’s legislative leaders to allow a vote on the issue. If lawmakers continue to delay, the state will essentially forfeit significant economic opportunities to neighboring states like Massachusetts, including substantial tax revenue and good jobs.”

An October poll commissioned by WPRI and Roger Williams Law School found likely Rhode Island voters in support of marijuana legalization by a 19-point margin, with 56 percent of respondents in favor and only 37 percent opposed.

In Massachusetts, adults 21 and older with a valid ID will be able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed marijuana retail stores, of which no more than five grams can be in concentrate form. It will remain illegal to consume marijuana in public. Marijuana products sold for adult use will be subject to a 6.25 percent state sales tax and a 10.75 percent state excise tax, and municipal officials have the option of levying additional local taxes of up to 3 percent. A study released in June by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health estimated adult marijuana sales would generate more than $200 million for the state and up to $3 million for local governments in the first two years alone.

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“Marijuana prohibition is officially coming to an end in the Bay State, and it will not be missed,” said Schweich, who oversaw the successful Question 4 campaign in 2016. “Voters in Massachusetts wanted a more sensible policy, new tax revenue, and safer communities, and that is what they are going to get.

“Finally, adults will be able to purchase marijuana safely and legally in regulated, taxpaying businesses instead of resorting to the underground market,” Schweich said. “Adults will simply stop at a licensed store, show their ID, pay, and be on their way. It won’t be long before the novelty wears off and it feels just like buying alcohol from a liquor store.”

Marijuana possession has been legal for adults 21 and older in Massachusetts since Question 4 took effect on December 15, 2016. The initiative was approved by 53.7 percent of voters on November 8, 2016, and legislation to implement the initiative was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on July 28, 2017.

Voters in nine states, including Massachusetts, have enacted laws to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana for adult use, and similar legislation was approved by lawmakers in the United States territory of the Northern Mariana Islands and signed into law in September. Lawmakers in Vermont and voters in District of Columbia have adopted laws making marijuana possession and cultivation legal for adults, but not regulating commercial production or sales.

Legal adult marijuana sales began in Colorado in January 2014; Washington in July 2014; Oregon in October 2015; Alaska in October 2016; Nevada in July 2017; and California in January 2018. In Maine, they are expected to begin in fall 2019. In Michigan, where the law was just adopted during the midterm election earlier this month, adult sales are expected to begin in 2020.

About the Author

The Marijuana Policy Project is the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization. It has been a leading advocate for federal marijuana policy reform since its founding in 1995, and it has played a leading role in most major state-level reforms that have occurred over the past two decades. For more information, visit