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7 Takeaways on Marijuana in Massachusetts

Massachusetts voters are expected to head to the polls in November and likely vote on a ballot measure fully legalizing marijuana, four years after they signed off on medical marijuana and eight years after approving decriminalization of small amounts of the substance.

A special state Senate committee, whose members recently traveled to Colorado to see the legal cannabis industry up close, issued its official report on Tuesday, sounding a skeptical note on legalization and hoping to promote a cautious approach.

Here are some takeaways from the report:

  • The report recommends heavily taxing marijuana if it's legalized. The report calls for an excise tax of between 5 percent to 15 percent collected from growers, a marijuana-specific sales tax of 10 percent to 20 percent, and a local option sales tax of up to 5 percent. That's just to start.

  • The committee's report wants "strict" limits on the marketing, advertising and promotion, including a prohibition of restriction on marijuana advertising on television, radio, print, billboards and other forms of media. Health risks would have to be put on advertising and marketing, free samples and coupons would be banned.

  • No celebrity endorsements: The report wants a ban on those and brand sponsorships "that may increase appeal to youth."

  • The report wants a ban on "home growing" or at least a temporary prohibition, and also recommends aggregate limits on how much marijuana could be grown in the state each year.

  • The report estimates 885,000 Massachusetts residents used marijuana in the last year -- almost half of them youth and young adults under 25 years old -- consuming a total of 85 metric tons (or 3 million ounces) of marijuana. That's compared to 3.1 billion servings of beer, wine and spirits in 2012, the report says.

  • One in four high schoolers used marijuana in the last year. One in five Massachusetts marijuana users smoke it daily.

  • Addiction hits one in nine users, the report claims. The report calls marijuana overdoses "rare" and says it does not lead to death, qualifying it with it potentially leading to "psychotic events." The report adds: "Pregnant women who use marijuana increase the risk of damage to the fetal brain."

If recreational marijuana is legalized by Massachusetts voters, "it will be critical to dedicate sufficient time, expertise, and resources to ensure as smooth an implementation as possible, which nevertheless is likely to be challenging," the report says.

State officials struggled to implement a medical marijuana program after Massachusetts voters approved it in 2012, the same year Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.

Four years after the approval of medical marijuana, there are six dispensaries are open across Massachusetts, as patient demand for products has surged.

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