House and Senate set to compromise on final marijuana bill

Lawmakers disagree on how much to tax pot sales

BOSTON (WWLP) — Voters passed the recreational marijuana ballot question in November, but lawmakers have yet to fully implement the law. The House and Senate have both approved bills to revise Massachusetts pot laws, leaving only a few more steps in the process before the ballot law is fully changed.

Lawmakers must now reach agreement on a final proposal. State leaders named a six-member conference committee Friday that will compromise on a final bill to revise Massachusetts recreational pot law.

The Senate passed an amended marijuana bill in a 30-5 vote Thursday evening. The Senate bill allows cities and towns to ban pot shops through referendum and taxes marijuana sales at a maximum of 12 percent, measures included in the ballot law approved by voters in November.

“We in the Senate made the decision that it was best to listen to the will of the voters, and the voters did vote out the 12 percent tax rate,” said State Senator Jim Welch, (D) West Springfield.

The Senate proposal would also erase criminal records for non-violent marijuana offenses.

Although the Senate approved a marijuana bill, the House has a proposal of their own. The main area of contention between the two: how much to tax pot sales. The House approved bill calls for a 28 percent tax rate on pot sales, more than doubling the Senate’s proposed rate of 12 percent.

“I think it’s probably somewhere in between where we need to go that could be a little too low when we think about the monumental task we have at hand, regulating this whole process,” said State Rep. John Velis, (D) Westfield.

Some lawmakers are concerned the higher tax rate could keep consumers from purchasing from legal pot shops. But House lawmakers argue that other states have a much higher tax rate, like Washington with a 37 percent excise tax.

Lawmakers hope to get a final bill to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk by the end of the month.