Lawmakers Face Dueling Versions of Marijuana Legalization

State lawmakers are working against an end-of-month deadline to try to reconcile two competing versions of the marijuana legalization bill.

The House was the latest to act on the measure, and Essex Rep. Frank Moran, who chairs the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said they scored a win by making sure the legislation contains diversity licensing goals. He said it also has programs to recruit and train minorities and women to own or work in marijuana businesses.

“We wanted the bill to promote participation from communities disproportionately impacted by this cannabis prohibition and enforcement; so we fought the bill to make sure communities of color are inclusive in this bill,” he explained.

Supporters of the higher tax rate said the money is needed to pay for the added cost of marijuana regulation. Lawmakers have until June 30 to craft a compromise.

The House bill, approved by a wide margin last week, would raise the tax on retail marijuana sales from 12 to 28 percent.

Moran says his caucus was shooting for a 10 percent tax out of concerns the higher tax could drive consumers back to illegal dealers.

“You know, at the end of the day, it was a little higher than we expected,” he said. “But you know, we were thankful that the speaker and the senate majority leader were able to work with that and get a few of our amendments included.”

For those hoping to smoke weed in public, the House version of the bill is a little gray on that matter. It currently includes a $100 fine for consuming or smoking marijuana in a public place, “in a manner that is not authorized by law, regulation or ordinance.”

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