Cannabis in Massachusetts

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Cannabis in Massachusetts relates to the legal and cultural events surrounding the use of cannabis. In 2008 Massachusetts voters decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Massachusetts became the eighteenth state to legalize medical marijuana when voters passed a ballot in 2012, 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. 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. The largest event for the support of the legalization of marijuana, the Boston Freedom Rally, takes place annually in September.



On November 4, 2008 Massachusetts voters passed a ballot that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. 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. 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.

The proponents of the change argued that:

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:

Promote use of the drug and protect dealers

Increase violence

Create hazardous workplaces

Increase car crashes

The law went into effect January of 2009.

Medical Marijuana

On November 6, 2012, 63% of Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative. 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. The Massachusetts Medical Society opposes the bill, saying there is no scientific proof that marijuana is safe and effective. 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.

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.” 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.



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. 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.

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. 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.


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.

See also

Cannabis in Oregon

Cannabis in California

Cannabis in the United States

Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative

Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative

Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition