Updates on Massachusetts Marijuana Laws

Massachusetts has spent nearly a decade implementing different versions of marijuana reform. In 2008, the passage of Question 2 (65.2%-34.8%) removed many criminal penalties for possession and use of marijuana, and replaced them with civil charges, including a $100 fine for first offenses.

A reformation backed by compassion, Question 3 was enacted in 2012, passing with 63% support. Question 3 was intended to set up the framework allowing qualified doctors to recommend patients suffering from specific debilitating health conditions. Since the law was enacted, over 30,000 patients have registered within the program.

And finally, Massachusetts Question 4 passed in November 2016 with 54% support. Enacted on December 15th, 2016, Question 4 ruled that marijuana possession, use, and cultivation legal for adults 21 and over.

While Question 2 has become less relevant since legalization in 2016, the fines and penalties for public consumption or youth possession directly translate to the Massachusetts legal marijuana industry.

Possession limits depend on where you are, your age, and if you are a registered medical patient. For instance, possession of marijuana for adult recreational consumers is limited to one ounce of flower in public (or up to five grams of concentrated marijuana), but as much as ten ounces at home in a locked and secure place. In contrast, medical patients are allowed up to ten ounces of marijuana during a two-month period.

Adults caught with over one ounce on their person are subject to misdemeanor charges, six months in jail, and a $500 fine. If you get caught again, the fine goes up to $2,000 with up to two years incarceration.

Adults may gift up to one ounce of marijuana flower or up to five grams of marijuana concentrates to any individual 21 and over under two conditions:
The transaction was not something advertised or solicited.
Nothing of value was exchanged for the marijuana.
Patients under 18 cannot purchase their own products. Such purchases can only be made by the patient caregiver.

No legal reason exists to drive while under the influence of marijuana. This applies equally to both recreational and medical marijuana consumers. While the law does allow for the use of marijuana, the laws remain unchanged when it comes to the physical control of a car, boat, or any other form of motorized transportation.

Penalties for operating a vehicle while under the influence may include fines up to $5,000, a one-year suspension of driving privileges, and up to 30 months of house arrest. Alternatively, this can include probation and mandated drug-abuse counseling.

It is unclear at this time whether the state intends to refine the definition of marijuana intoxication. Colorado, for instance, has enacted a five nanogram limit of THC when evaluating intoxication.

Marijuana may be transported within the state by medical patients and adults 21 years and older; however, this too has its limits. Transporting marijuana around the state for personal use is acceptable as long as the package remains unopened. The equivalent of an open container of alcohol, an opened package of cannabis can yield adult consumers or patients a fine up to $500. This extends to most places within the vehicle, yet the law specifies the vehicle’s trunk and the locked glove box as not included in the legal definition of “passenger area” of a vehicle.

Under Question 3, pediatric and youth patients under 18 are eligible to participate in the program. In order to receive a physician certification, the patient must be evaluated by two licensed physicians – one of whom must be a board-certified pediatrician. These doctors must diagnose a life-limiting illness with reasonable estimates of death within 24 months or a non-terminal, debilitating illness and engage in a thorough discussion of possible neurological risks with the patients and their guardians. All of this must be documented in the certification. Patients under 18 are not eligible to purchase their own medicine. As a result, parents are required to register as the patient caregiver.

Adults 21 and over are permitted to cultivate up to six plants per individual. The total number of plants in any one residence cannot exceed twelve. The plants must be hidden from public view and kept locked and secure. Any person caught in violation of any of these provisions may find their plants confiscated and up to a $300 fine.

Medical patients are similarly eligible to cultivate marijuana in their or their caregiver’s residence. The authorizing physician may recommend the cultivation of more than six plants based on anticipated patient need for treatment. Ultimately, patients are expected to grow the approximate equivalent of a 60 day supply.

Public consumption of marijuana, except at venues specifically licensed for the activity, is strictly forbidden for recreational customers. This includes smoked, eaten, and topically-applied forms of cannabis or cannabis products. In contrast, medical patients are restricted from smoking marijuana in public, yet the law purposefully omits the topic of edible marijuana products.


Though marijuana news tends to be dominated by California and Colorado, there are developments – both positive and negative – across the nation in the ongoing struggle to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize/legalize pot for adult recreational use, and the East Coast is no exception.

First, the bad news:

Even if you haven’t smoked yet, this stat will blow your mind: According to analysis released February 11 by the legalization advocacy organization Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), there were more marijuana possession arrests in New York City in 2010 than for the years 1978-1996 combined. 50,383 people were popped in NYC for pot in ‘10, which breaks down to 140 busts a day, easily making marijuana possession the ‘crime’ generating the most arrests in the Big Apple. By comparison 49,326 were arrested for pot from ‘78-’96, a 19-year period. The DPA suggested the NYPD has surreptitiously made marijuana enforcement their top priority over the past two decades and certainly the numbers reflect such a trend. The mayoral tenure of Michael Bloomberg has been particularly heinous to stoners, with 350,000 busted since 2002.


While it’s a major victory that the Garden State has had a medical marijuana law for over a year, (S.119, passed by the New Jersey Assembly in 2010) an ongoing conflict between the Democrat-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Chris Christie over regulating the growing and distribution of medical marijuana has left those applying to sell/distribute medi-pot confused, frustrated and in some cases, just giving up. Some potential applicants said it wasn’t fair for them to put up the $20,000 fee just to be considered and potentially publicly expose details of their plans when the regulations were still undetermined, due mostly to Gov. Christie’s complex and protracted obstruction of implementing S.119 over the past year. On February 14, a state appeals court rejected an effort to delay the deadline for those applying to operate a medi-pot dispensary as it was announced that only 20 potential dispensary operators were to be considered by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and that decisions regarding the applicants’ status will be announced in March. The DHSS limited the number of dispensaries in the state to a scant six (a number Gov. Christie is said to favor).

A look to other Eastern states offers more encouraging news:


The state with some of the most lenient pot laws in the nation took another step towards outright legalization as Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) introduced a bill in January that would regulate and tax pot. Formally entitled “The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act,” it was drafted by Northampton attorney and former NORML board member Richard Evans.

The bill would legalize the possession, consumption and sale of marijuana for adults 21-and over. A cultivation license would cost $500 per year but growers could only sell to the holder of a processing license, which would cost $1,000 and only allows licensees to obtain marijuana from a cultivator or an importer. Each pot package would be limited to one ounce and affixed with proper tax stamps, a warning about a $5,000 fine if driving while stoned and a label indicating the THC level of the given strain. The bill would also require licensing and fees for so-called “middle-man” distribution, retailing and importing. If passed, the law could serve as a template for other states to establish a legal, regulated system for selling recreational pot.


Currently taking shape in the Maryland General Assembly is House Bill 291, which would legalize medi-pot, sponsored by Delegate and licensed physician Dan Morhaim. A recent amendment in the House of Delegates by Mike McDermott (R-Worcester) would not allow patients to smoke medi-pot, but only consume it via vaporizer, ingestion and curiously, by injection. McDermott won’t add his name to HB 291 unless that provision is included in the law. There is also a similar bill in the Maryland Senate (SB 308), co-sponsored by mutual cancer survivors Republican David Brinkley and Democrat Jamie Raskin. In 2010, the Senate passed a medi-pot bill that died in the House; time will tell if these political compromises finally gets medi-pot legal in the Old Line State.


In January, state Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D) sponsored Senate Bill 17 (SB-17) in the Delaware Senate, marking the third year in a row Henry has attempted to get medi-pot legalized in the First State, though she is optimistic it will pass this year as she told Delaware Online.

Rep. Helene Keeley (D) emphasized the bill will not allow patients to grow their own medicine and that there would only be three state licensed non-profit dispensaries to grow and sell medi-pot, one in each county (yes, Delaware has the least amount of counties of any state in the U.S.). The three dispensaries would be subject to random inspections by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). The DHSS would issue authorized ID cards to pot patients and designated caregivers, permitted to procure marijuana for certain patients (but not grow for them as caregivers can in other states).