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Bill overhauling legal pot law would more than double tax rate on sale of marijuana

The House leaders are proposing to raise the tax from what was approved by voters in the ballot law.
marijuana
Massachusetts voters approved a legal marijuana law in Nov. 2016. Photo: Shutterstock

A key House committee that for months has been vetting the marijuana legalization ballot law will propose to more than double the tax rate on the sale of pot in Massachusetts from what was approved by voters in 2016, according to copy of the bill.

The Marijuana Policy Committee will meet at noon on Wednesday to vote on the marijuana bill that is expected to go before the full House on Thursday.

The bill, a copy of which was obtained by the News Service, calls for a total tax rate of 28 percent on marijuana sales, up from the 12 percent prescribed by the ballot law. The tax rate include the state's 6.25 percent sales tax, a 16.75 percent excise tax on pot and a 5 percent tax would be returned to the city or town where the pot was sold.

The bill would also put oversight of medical marijuana, currently under the purview of the Department of Public Health, with the new five-member Cannabis Control Commission, whose members would be appointed by the treasurer, governor and attorney general.

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The tax portion of bill appears to have gone through some revisions in recent days as House leadership vetted the final proposal before its release. Multiple sources told the News Service earlier in the day that the initial tax provisions in a draft of the bill would have capped the rate at 18.75 percent.

The bill also creates a new Cannabis Revenue Fund to be seeded with revenues generated by the non-local taxes on marijuana sales. After paying for the operation of a new five-member Cannabis Control Commission, the bill calls for at least $10 million in pot sale proceeds to be used for substance abuse and treatment programs.

As previously reported by the News Service, the bill would also would allow the governing body in a city or town — the board of selectmen or city council — to approve a ban of retail marijuana sales rather than require a community-wide referendum, as is required under the ballot law.

The Cannabis Control Commission would also be empowered to restrict certain types of advertising and marketing of marijuana and associated products.

Yes on 4, the organization behind the 2016 ballot campaign, criticized the House bill Tuesday evening.

"The House proposal in no way improves the measure passed by voters. It weakens it and it insults voters in the process. Its irrational tax increase will give drug dealers the ability to undercut the legal market, and its removal of ban authority from local voters will give a handful of selectmen the ability to overrule the opinion of their own constituents," the group said in a statement.

 
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