BOSTON — A raft of proposals to limit the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana is infuriating pot advocates who say lawmakers are trying to eviscerate key provisions of a voter-approved law.
Among more than three-dozen bills pending in the Legislature are proposals to cut in half the number of pot plants that can be grown on someone’s property from a dozen to six, and impose a two-year ban on edible marijuana products.
One bill, filed by Sen. William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, even seeks to repeal the referendum allowing for the sale and possession of pot.
“This is legislative intrusion on a citizens’ initiative,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which pushed legalization. “We will fight any attempts to redo the law that was overwhelmingly approved by voters.”
Borghesani said lawmakers had more than two years to approve the use of recreational marijuana and set regulations before the question was put to voters. They didn’t act.
“They punted, and now they want the ball back,” he said. “That’s not the way it works.”
Question 4 passed with more than 53 percent of the vote last November — even with opposition from top elected leaders including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey and the efforts of an organized, anti-legalization campaign.
The question divided voters North of Boston. Gloucester, Newburyport, Salem, Amesbury, Swampscott and Beverly were among communities where majorities voted to legalize marijuana.
Majorities of voters in Andover, North Andover, Peabody, Danvers and Lawrence were among those against.
The new law allows Massachusetts adults 21 and older to have up to an ounce of marijuana in public, and up to 10 ounces at home. In addition, they may grow up to a dozen plants on their property.
The law also authorizes retail sales and growing facilities, but those aren’t expected to open until 2018 or later, following a controversial move by lawmakers to delay implementation for six months.
More proposed changes
Some lawmakers also want to reduce the number of pot plants that may be cultivated to six per household. Sen. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, who has filed several of the proposals, cited laws in Oregon, Colorado and other states where pot is legal that limit home-growing to six plants or fewer.
Lewis also wants to impose a two-year ban on the sale of edible pot products, such as candy, which have high concentrations of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
“We don’t fully understand the health impacts of these products so it would be prudent to take time to figure out the safest way to introduce them to the market,” he said.
Another proposal would require strict packaging and labeling for marijuana products to let consumers know the ingredients and keep them away from underage users.
“We’re not in any way trying to defy the will of the people, who made their voices heard,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to fill in gaps that the ballot question didn’t address.”
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, wants to give law enforcement more power to deal with pot-impaired motorists by increasing penalties for driving under the influence and extending a law that bans open containers of alcohol in cars to include marijuana.
One bill would require individuals suspected of driving under the influence to submit to blood and urine tests. Those who refuse would have their license suspended.
Lawmakers are also considering raising the tax on pot sales, possibly as high as 30 percent.
The law sets a 3.75 percent state excise tax on marijuana sales and allows communities to impose an additional 2 percent tax. Both are in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.
But some lawmakers say that won’t be enough to cover the cost of regulating the industry.
Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, filed a bill that would expand the size of the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board from 15 to 21 members and require substance abuse, law enforcement and mental health experts to serve on the yet-to-be-created committee.
Campbell said the board, which would enforce regulations and approve requests to open pot shops, otherwise will be stacked with marijuana industry representatives and users.
“What is lacking is sufficient representation of those who will be required to implement laws and regulations,” she said.
Her proposal will also allow cities and towns to impose moratoriums on retail pot shops until regulations are approved to limit smoking marijuana outdoors.
‘We want a stronger law’
Jody Hensley, of Massachusetts Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said opponents of the new law want lawmakers to restrict, if not repeal, many of its controversial provisions.
She points out more than 1.5 million voters rejected legalization in the Nov. 8 election.
“We don’t believe the majority of voters really understood what was in the 8,500 word ballot question,” Hensley said. “We want a stronger law that protects communities.”
Opponents of legalized marijuana are also waiting to see whether Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican tapped by President Donald Trump to become the next attorney general, will direct the government to intervene by enforcing federal laws.
Eight states including Massachusetts have voted to legalize the drug recreationally, and 29 have legalized medical marijuana. But the Class D controlled substance remains illegal under federal law.
Besides pressuring state lawmakers not to gut the law, pot advocates say they likely won’t be able to challenge any of the changes in court.
But they hope supporters of the new law will tell lawmakers to back off changes to the ballot initiative.
“They’re subverting the will of the voters, who have every reason to be outraged,” said Richard Evans, a Northampton attorney and longtime marijuana activist.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.