Recreational Marijuana May Be Legal in Massachusetts, But You Can Still Get a Possession Charge

February 06, 2022 by Anthony Riccio

2022 may see the most significant push for states to legalize marijuana. Most states without reformed cannabis measures have campaigns, proposals, or bills moving through the Senate to legalize medical marijuana. 

While most of the country seems on board to legalize marijuana, some restrictions could lead to drug possession charges or worse. 

When Did Recreational Marijuana Become Legal?

Like most states, Massachusetts began legalizing cannabis through decriminalization in 2008. When legislation made medical marijuana accessible in 2012, passing the new law was controversial. 

Towns across Massachusetts attempted to ban dispensaries. Members of the community spoke out at City Hall meetings against dispensaries, urging mayors to ban them altogether. In their mind, marijuana posed a threat amid the Opioid Epidemic. As a “gateway drug,” citizens were fearful having easy access to marijuana would exacerbate the state’s drug problem. Once cities and towns began to issue bans, Attorney General Martha M. Coakley stepped in to protect the rights of dispensaries.

2016 saw a landmark ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana with restrictions:

  • Individuals 21 and up may purchase and possess 1 ounce at a time
  • On the way home, make sure the ounce is locked up and not visible
  • Households may store ten ounces or less unless harvested from personal crops
  • Though it cannot be visible from the street, households may grow marijuana plants
    • One-adult households may grow 6 plants or less
    • 2-adult households are allowed up to 12 plants

Despite restraints, the Massachusetts marijuana industry boomed in a short time.

What is the Massachusetts Marijuana Industry Worth?

For the first time in history, the commonwealth of Massachusetts collected more marijuana excise taxes than alcohol. According to the Cannabis Control Commission, in 2021:

  • The commonwealth collected over $112 million from recreational marijuana sales
  • Gross marijuana sales were nearly $1 billion 
  • Total cannabis sales since legalization have reached $2.54 billion

The growth was 206% higher than officials projected. The Commission, a Massachusetts organization that monitors dispensaries, has worked tirelessly to balance curating an adult-use marketplace and maintaining public health and safety. 

Marijuana tourism has also skyrocketed. A simple google search will see page after page of travel blogs dedicated to “cannabis tourism.” Cannabis tourism is a subculture of travel involving more than consumption. Visitors engage in roughly the same leisure activities expected of a wine enthusiast.

Websites like Bud and Breakfast capitalize on tourism by connecting cannabis users to consumption-friendly hotels and lodgings. Specialty tours offer sight-seeing tours paired with exploring different dispensaries. Cannabis is illegal to smoke out in the open in Massachusetts. However, the rise in tourism is pushing for marijuana-friendly social clubs and cafes. 

How Can Recreational Marijuana Users Get a Possession Charge?

Every state offers various restrictions on marijuana use. As cannabis tourism continues to grow, it is essential to help visitors understand the laws.

In Massachusetts, recreational marijuana has its limits:

  • Possession charges can arise if it appears an individual is selling the product. Users may only buy and possess an ounce at a time outside the home. If an individual is found with more than an ounce, it could be considered illegal possession. 
  • In most cases, a person would need to be in possession of enough marijuana that it would be reasonable to assume it is for sale. If marijuana is in separate packages, a charge of possession is almost guaranteed. 
  • Due to marijuana’s decriminalization, underage individuals caught in possession of cannabis will receive a civil ticket and must attend a drug education program.

How Recreational Cannabis May Be on Fragile Ground

The cannabis industry has enjoyed growth and success since recreational use was legalized. However, some lawmakers in Massachusetts are fearful of the long-term effects of the accessibility to marijuana, including:

  • State Rep. James O’Day, D-Worcester, recently proposed raising the minimum age for marijuana use to 25.  
  • State Rep. Bradford Hill, R-Ipswich, has filed a bill to limit flavors and levels of T.H.C.

Governor Charlie Baker voiced concerns when signing the recreational use law, stating, “I don’t support this; I worry terribly about what the consequences over time will be.” 

The proposed restrictions focus primarily on teenage users. While it is illegal for teenagers to use marijuana, Massachusetts lawmakers are gaining momentum to implement further restrictions due to fears caused by the Opioid Epidemic. The commonwealth has suffered disproportionately to the rest of the country:

  • Massachusetts ranks 7th in the nation for fatal drug overdoses, primarily due to opioids
  • The state only wrote 35.3 opioid prescriptions for every 100 individuals, making it one of the lowest rates in the country. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the last reporting year:

  • 88% of overdoses in the commonwealth are due to opioids
  • Overdoses remain evenly split between heroin and prescription opioids
  • 90% of all opioid fatalities resulted from synthetic opioids

The state is grappling with finding ways to prevent opioid addiction. When marijuana is viewed as a “gateway drug” to opioid use, fears find validation. 

Multiple sources confirm marijuana is not the gateway drug most grew up believing. Cannabis has been used medically for more than 5,000 years. In the early 1900s, cannabis could be found in nearly every medicine cabinet. 

However, just over a decade into Nixon’s War on Drugs, the term “gateway drug” was popularized in commercials and anti-drug campaigns like the D.A.R.E. program. Addiction is a disorder that can be triggered by:

  • Social factors
  • Personal factors
  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors

Many substance abusers begin with marijuana as a testament to the prevalence and easy access to cannabis, not a direct link. 

Some Medical Researchers Propose Cannabis Use May Help Curb Opioid Use

The University of Colorado is the first medical facility to directly compare cannabis and opioids for pain relief. The research is new and hopes to shed light on how each drug affects a person’s pain receptors. 

Addiction lasts a lifetime. Once a user favors prescription painkillers or heroin, it will be a lifelong struggle to accept physical pain as a part of life to say no to taking another pill. 

The potential for marijuana does not rest in replacing opioids for pain relief but in preventing a person from ever using opioids. Our bodies take a great deal of punishment throughout our lives that cause daily pain later in life. 

Athletes begin to feel their shoulders, knees, and other joints going with age. Soft tissue damage can arise from micro-repetitive movements from work. Since our bodies adjust to pain, the two ibuprofens in the morning do not have the same effect after a while. Serious injuries can lead to life-long pain, requiring some form of relief to function.

Pain from age and injury lead people to eventually seek relief in opioids. However, cannabis may be the answer to curbing the need for stronger pain relievers. When the ibuprofen fails, time for a trip to the dispensary instead of the pharmacy. 

If you have concerns over a drug-related matter, Riccio Law is here to offer sound legal advice