Five years ago this month, Massachusetts and four other states joined Colorado, Washington state, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., in legalizing marijuana.
It took a while for the Legislature to finalize the regulations, but the Bay State made history three years ago this month with the launch of the first recreational marijuana stores on the East Coast.
Medical marijuana facilities Cultivate Holdings, in Leicester, and New England Treatment Access, in Northampton, opened their doors to kick off the state’s first legal recreational marijuana sales to people over the age of 21.
Amidst cheers by store employees, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz became the first customer to kick off the new, green era. An Air Force veteran, Narkewicz told reporters that he made a “symbolic” purchase of a cannabis-infused chocolate bar, which he would be preserving instead of consuming.
Now five years after Massachusetts voters by a margin of 54%-46% opted to legalize recreational cannabis, the state’s industry has surpassed $2 billion in sales.
There are 176 retailers across the Bay State, including stores in Attleboro, Mansfield and Plainville, where customers can buy a selection of flower, edibles, topicals and more.
Those sales are lower than predicted, which also means the state and municipalities have seen less tax revenue than expected.
Legalization also has not eliminated the black market on marijuana. In fact, studies indicate that 68% of all marijuana sales in Massachusetts in 2020 were illegal, down from 75% the year before.
But legalization advocates say that the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, and sales are bound to climb when acceptance grows and the stigma of pot declines.
“It’s been a success in creating new tax revenue and new jobs and it’s been a success in giving local communities a new stream of tax money,” said Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the legalization question on the 2016 ballot, told MassLive. “We’ve seen no increase in teen use. We’ve seen not a single incident of a sale to a minor. We’ve seen no increased crime around the cannabis facilities. We’ve seen no diminishment in business value or customer access around the locations. In other words, we’ve seen none of the negative repercussions that opponents were advocating during the legalization campaign.”
We agree. Doomsday predictions were made when Massachusetts ended indoor smoking and legalized same-sex marriage.
It never happened. In fact, those decisions have improved our quality of life.
A lot has happened in the five years since Massachusetts took the leap and made buying and consuming marijuana legal.
We’ve been hit with a pandemic that claimed the lives of 750,000 Americans, experienced a tumultuous presidency and election and witnessed an insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
But approving marijuana has not hurt the state. In fact, it has opened businesses, added jobs and tax revenue and made it easier and safer for consumers to purchase a product whose only goal is to make them feel better.
Five years later, Massachusetts voters got this decision right.