MHA: State's Marijuana Law Needs Improvement

The commercial sale of marijuana has been legalized in Massachusetts – but that doesn’t mean that the law as passed by ballot question last November is without fault and can’t be improved.

On Monday the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, co-chaired by Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) and Rep. Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), held another in its series of hearings as it considers nearly 90 bills to address various issues surrounding the voter-approved marijuana law.

MHA President & CEO Lynn Nicholas, FACHE testified at the State House hearing, saying that while MHA respected the will of the voters “the legislature must act to improve the law because of the inadequacies of the ballot language.”

Specifically, Nicholas called on the state to undertake rigorous and ongoing data collection on the public health, public safety, and fiscal effects of legalized marijuana sales, and she urged delaying the sale of marijuana edibles until further studies have been conducted on high-potency tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the products. “Marijuana-infused edibles are the fastest growing segment of the marijuana marketplace and the introduction of such products to Massachusetts poses particularly challenging public health and safety issues,” Nicholas said.

Perhaps most importantly in light of the changing culture regarding marijuana and its  proven detrimental effects on brain development in adolescents, Nicholas encouraged support for proposed bills that discourage marketing to children and that dedicate a portion of the taxes collected through marijuana sales to establish a trust fund for adolescent substance use prevention and early intervention.

In testimony (see below) submitted to the committee, MHA threw its strong support behind a number of marijuana-related proposals, including ones to ensure that law enforcement has statutory tools for determining driver impairment due to marijuana; increasing the tax levies included in the law and earmarking them for substance use disorder treatment; expanding the size of the board overseeing marijuana regulation; and allowing towns greater authority to determine where retail marijuana shops are located.

The Committee’s final hearing will be held this Monday at 4 p.m. at Shrewsbury High School. It is the intention of the legislature to place an omnibus bill for final approval by Governor Baker in June.