Crack Down on Growing
The pot pushers are back in the high life. With marijuana supplies dropping to the point where demand is no longer satisfied, law enforcement in Massachusetts are seeing a resurgence in black-market activity. Smokers are able to get their weed on the streets, minus the taxes levied on recreational retail outfits.
This is antithetical to what the post-legalization landscape was supposed to look like, and although experts believe the weed shortage is temporary, the flare-up in black market activity is concerning.
As the Herald’s Rick Sobey reports, some lawmakers on Beacon Hill have taken notice. Sen. Michael Moore, a Democrat from Millbury, and Rep. Hannah Kane, a Republican from Shrewsbury, filed a bill last week titled, “An Act to enhance enforcement against unlicensed marijuana operators.”
Moore and Kane want to create a multi-agency marijuana task force that would work on combating illicit marijuana cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution.
It rings familiar. Memories of George H.W. Bush’s “zero tolerance” approach to drugs come to mind. If it seems like fighting the old battle, it is -- but with a new twist.
According to Moore, the bill would establish a novel approach by utilizing a special “forgone tax revenue assessment.” The Department of Revenue would levy this assessment against illicit operators who avoided paying Massachusetts’ marijuana taxes.
“When voters passed this legislation, they did it with the understanding that the industry would be regulated and taxed, and the products would be tested,” Moore said. “We need to work at this to meet the public’s expectations, and enhance the legislation that the voters passed.”
It is a unique approach that would essentially nudge black market dealers into the framework built for legal purveyors, thus making them subject to regulation and taxes. Ideally, once “legitimized,” former black market operators would abide by all of the rules and restrictions established in the legal marketplace.
As the bill indicates, stewardship of the task force would fall under the purview of a handful of officials across state government. “The task force shall support, coordinate, and conduct targeted investigations and enforcement actions against illicit marijuana operators. The task force shall be co-chaired by the commissioner of revenue or a designee and the colonel of the state police or a designee and shall also consist of: the attorney general or a designee; executive director of the Cannabis Control Commission or a designee, the state treasurer or a designee; the commissioner of public health or a designee; the commissioner of agriculture or a designee; and two municipal chiefs of police appointed by the governor.”
More than 75 percent of Massachusetts’ marijuana sales are still coming from the illicit market, according to a recent study that Moore pointed to on Tuesday. That is a problem.
Growing enough marijuana in-state to satisfy the demands of retail locations and medical facilities is not an insurmountable task -- those in the industry saw this coming. An innovative approach is needed to bridge the gap in the meantime, and the legislation brought forward by Sen. Moore and Rep. Kane is worth debating.