While Massachusetts voters, including a majority in the Attleboro area, approved legalization of recreational marijuana Tuesday, at least some police chiefs say nothing will change until the first provision of the law takes effect on Dec. 15.
“We’re not going to relax our enforcement just because we have a date in front of us,” North Attleboro Police Chief John Reilly said.
The ballot question makes it legal next month for people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana on their person and up to 10 ounces in their home. In addition, people would be able to cultivate up to six marijuana plants for their own use and 12 per household.
However, the legal sale of recreational marijuana is not expected to be cleared until 2018, when regulatory details are in place.
Sale of marijuana would be taxed at the state’s sales tax rate, plus a 3.75 percent excise tax. Local communities could add another 2 percent, bringing the total to 12 percent.
Retail marijuana shops would have to be licensed.
The law would also permit licensed medical marijuana facilities to obtain licenses to sell recreational pot. However, the non-profit owners of the marijuana dispensary that has been proposed in Mansfield say they do not plan to market the recreational product.
Massachusetts was one of four states, including California, Maine and Nevada, where voters approved legal sale of recreational marijuana in Tuesday’s election. Arizona voters rejected recreational pot, however.
Massachusetts voters approved legalization 54 percent to 46 percent, and the 10 Attleboro area communities mirrored that, voting 53.4 percent for legalization and 46.6 percent against.
Marijuana legalization in Massachusetts could mean additional enforcement headaches for local police, who mostly opposed the question.
“The voters have spoken, it is what it is,” North Attleboro’s Reilly said.
Reilly said legalization opens the possibility of more drivers operating under the influence of pot, for which there is no test such as for alcohol to determine intoxication levels. He said it will also be difficult to police the home-growing provision.
Reilly warned not to expect any relaxation in enforcing the current law on marijuana before the new law takes effect.
Recently North Attleboro police arrested a local woman for cultivating a marijuana tree at her apartment, something that would not be illegal under the new law.
Norton Chief Brian Clark said Massachusetts can learn from the history of legalization in Colorado.
“The voters have had their say,” he said. “We’ll go from there.”
Mansfield Chief Ron Sellon said any concern about the drawbacks of pot legalization won’t interfere with police enforcing the will of the voters.
“The people have spoken,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to work collaboratively to enforce the letter of the law.”
Law enforcement authorities criticized legalization not only because of the difficulty in policing drivers under the influence of marijuana, but also for the possibility of marijuana edibles and other products being accessible to children.
Critics also claimed any new tax revenues created by pot would not be enough to fund anything beyond the administration of the program.
Pro-cannabis activists said those concerns are overblown and that legalizing marijuana would remove distribution of pot from criminals.
Yes on 4 campaign communications director Jim Borghesani hailed the passage of the measure.
“Massachusetts voters yesterday made a choice between two systems, one that would keep marijuana illegal and keep criminals in control, and one that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana and put commerce in the hands of licensed businesses under the control of state regulators and local authorities,” he said in a prepared statement.
“Voters sent a clear signal that they prefer a new system that will control youth access and generate new revenue for the state. Massachusetts has historically been at the forefront of sweeping social movements including civil rights and gay marriage, and we are doing so again with the legalization and regulation of marijuana.”
Proponents of the ballot question have said legalization would raise over $120 million annually by 2020 and create thousands of jobs.
The governor and legislators could still rewrite some portions of the law, such as the provision regulating home growing.