Mass. Panel Aims to Strike Balance on Cannabis Taxes

Published on March 1, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
A smiling small business cafe owner receives cash payment from a young woman customer and prepares to deposit the money in the cash register.

BOSTON (AP) — The co-chairs of a legislative committee reviewing the state’s new recreational marijuana law said Tuesday that when it comes to taxing sales of the drug lawmakers will look to strike a balance between raising revenue for the state and discouraging the underground market.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, of Braintree, and Democratic Sen. Patricia Jehlen, of Somerville, were recently named to head the panel, which is expected to recommend legislation later this year. During an interview on WBUR-FM, Cusack said it was important to find the “sweet spot” for taxing cannabis.

“We also want to make sure we are not overtaxing and sending people back to the black market,” Cusack said.

The law, approved by voters last November, calls for a 3.75 percent excise tax on recreational cannabis sales that would be assessed on top of the state’s regular 6.25 percent sales tax. Cities and towns could assess an additional 2 percent tax on sales within their own communities.

Cusack and Jehlen noted that several states that previously legalized recreational marijuana, including Colorado, Washington and Oregon, impose significantly higher tax rates.

Cannabis retail stores are not expected to open in Massachusetts until mid-2018 at the earliest.

The lawmakers said they would seek a tax rate that would be high enough to generate sufficient revenue to cover regulatory and enforcement costs associated with the new law but low enough to prevent consumers from returning to illegal sources. The goal, Jehlen said, was to provide safe access to marijuana and “kill” the underground market.

The panel also is weighing other possible revisions in the law, including regulation of edible marijuana products and limits on the concentration of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

Legalization advocates have objected to the legislative review, noting the law was approved by about 54 percent of Massachusetts voters and should be given a chance to work before any changes are made.

Lawmakers insist that the will of voters would be respected but suggest that few actually read the entire text of the ballot question before casting their votes.

“I think there are some unanswered questions and room for improvement,” Cusack said.

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