Cannabis in Massachusetts

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Marijuana (Cannabis sativa)

Cannabis in Massachusetts relates to the legal and cultural events surrounding the use of cannabis. In 2008 Massachusetts voters decriminalized[1] the possession of small amounts of marijuana.[2] Massachusetts became the eighteenth state to legalize medical marijuana when voters passed a ballot in 2012,[3] even though the federal government still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance with no medical value. Non-medical marijuana is not currently legal in Massachusetts.[4] As of 2010 almost 10% of Massachusetts residents over the age of 12 had used marijuana in the past month, and almost 16% had used marijuana within the past year.[5] The largest event for the support of the legalization of marijuana, the Boston Freedom Rally, takes place annually in September.[6]



On November 4, 2008, Massachusetts voters passed a ballot that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.[2] The Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative made the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana punishable by a fine of $100 without the possessor being reported to the state’s criminal history board.[7] Minors also had to notify their parents, take a drug awareness program, and complete 10 hours of community service. Before decriminalization, people charged faced up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.[8]

The proponents of the change argued that:[9]

  • The change would keep the existing policies regarding growing, trafficking, and driving under the influence of the drug, while protecting those caught from a tainted criminal record
  • Massachusetts could save $130 million each year
  • Convictions of less than one ounce have been shown to have little or no impact on drug use

The opponents argued that the decriminalization would:[2]

  • Promote use of the drug and protect dealers
  • Increase violence
  • Create hazardous workplaces
  • Increase car crashes

The law went into effect January 2009.[8]

Medical Marijuana

On November 6, 2012, 63% of Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative.[10] The law took effect on January 1, 2013, eliminating criminal and civil penalties for the possessions and use of up to a 60-day supply of marijuana for patients possessing a state issued registration card. With a recommendation by a physician, patients with cancer, glaucoma, and other medical conditions can receive a registration card. The law allows for 35 state-licensed non-profit dispensaries. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has until May 1, 2013 to issue further regulations. Marijuana dispensaries will not be able to open until after the regulations have been set.[11] The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes the bill, saying there is no scientific proof that marijuana is safe and effective.[10] After the law passed, towns attempted to ban dispensaries. Attorney General Martha M. Coakley ruled that cities and towns cannot ban dispensaries, and can only regulate them. Complete bans would conflict with the law.[12]

Non-medical Cannabis

The Controlled Substance Act, the federal U.S. drug policy, lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. A Schedule 1 drug is a drug with a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and “a lack of accepted safety for use…under medical supervision.” [13] In 2012, Colorado and Washington passed initiatives allowing the recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and older. These laws do not change the fact that it is still against federal law to produce, sell, or possess marijuana. Non-medical cannabis is currently decriminalized in Massachusetts, but is not legal.[4]

Public opinion

Public opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
 % support  % opposition  % Undecided/Don't Know
UMass Amherst/WBZ February 19–25, 2016 891 registered voters ± 4.1% 53% 40% 7%
Emerson College October 16–18, 2015 629 registered voters ± 3.9% 40.5% 47.6% 11.9%
The Boston Globe June 22–24/June 29-July 1, 2014 601 likely voters ± 4% 48% 47% 5%
WBUR/MassINC Polling Group May 16–18, 2014 504 likely voters ± 4.4% 49% 42% 9%
WBUR/MassINC Polling Group March 14–16, 2014 500 likely voters ± 4.4% 48% 41% 10%
Boston Herald/Suffolk University January 29-February 3, 2014 600 likely voters ± 4.0% 53.17% 37.17% 9.67%
Western New England University November 5-November 11, 2013 467 registered voters ± 4.5% 39% 52% 9%



Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used in the United States. A 2007 survey showed that over 100 million US citizens over the age of 12 have used marijuana. More teenagers are current users of marijuana than cigarettes.[14] The following chart shows percentages of Massachusetts’ population’s marijuana usage using data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration based on surveys from 2010 and 2011.[5]

Ages 12+ 12-17 18-25 26+
Past Year 15.89 18.31 42.33 10.98
Past Month 9.96 11.32 28.42 6.56


Assessing the total cultivation of marijuana in the United States is difficult, and even more difficult by a statewide basis due to the illegality of the drug. In 2006 it was estimated that there was 22 million pounds of domestic crop. Including the imported crop from Mexico and Canada, Dr. Jon Gettman estimates there is approximately $100 billion worth of crop available in the United States.[15] Gettman’s study, Marijuana Production in the United States, shows that Massachusetts ranks 44th marijuana cultivation by state, producing 12,700 lbs. of marijuana worth $20 million.[16]


2008 Freedom Rally in Boston

The Boston Freedom Rally is an annual event on the third Saturday in September. It is the second largest annual gathering demanding marijuana law reform in the United States. The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition organizes the event. The event began in 1989, and has been held on the Boston Common since 1992. The city of Boston has tried to stop the event, but has been unable to do so.[6]

See also


  1. "Marijuana Laws Massachusetts". 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Abel, David (November 4, 2008). "Mass. voters OK decriminalization of marijuana". Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  3. Altieri, Erik (November 6, 2012). "Massachusetts Becomes 18th State to Legalize Medical Marijuana". NORML. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Marijuana Resource Center: State Laws Related to Marijuana". The White House. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "2010-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Model-Based Estimates" (PDF). Table 2 and 3. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Mass Cann". MASS CANN. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  7. "Marijuana Laws Massachusetts". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "General Laws". 188th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  9. Crimaldi, Laura (January 27, 2008). "Marijuana measures head to voters". Boston Herald. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Medical marijuana law passes in Massachusetts". CBS News. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  11. "Massachusetts Medical Marijuana". NORML. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  12. Stilts, Josh (March 15, 2013). "Massachusetts medical marijuana dispensaries may open this summer". The Berkshire Eagle. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  13. "Schedules of controlled substances". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  14. "Drug Facts: Marijuana". National Institute on Drug Abuse. December 2012. Retrieved March 30, 2013. 
  15. "Marijuana Economics 101". PBS. July 26, 2011. Retrieved April 2, 2013. 
  16. Gettmann, John. "Marijuana Production in the United States (2006)" (PDF). Appendix 3a. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 

External links