Massachusetts Marijuana Laws

Learn about Massachusetts’s laws and penalties for marijuana use, cultivation, distribution, and trafficking.

Marijuana possession, sale, and manufacture are regulated by both state and federal law. In Massachusetts, marijuana is classified as a class D substance, and until recently was completely illegal. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, § 31 (2019).) However, in November 2016 voters passed the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. This law decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana. (See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, §§ 1 and following (2019).)

There may also be some exceptions to the following laws for medical marijuana possession and use. And, while not covered below, it is also a crime to drive under the influence of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana in Massachusetts

The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act regulates the possession, production, and distribution of marijuana in the same way the state handles alcohol, for persons 21 years of age and older. Although marijuana may not be used in public, under the law:

  • Adults 21 years of age or older may possess one ounce of marijuana for their personal use when outside their residences, and up to ten ounces (must be in a locked space) inside their residences.
  • These adults may grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their homes, and may keep the marijuana produced by these plants in their residences.
  • It remains illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and marijuana cannot be carried in an open container in a vehicle’s passenger area.
  • Employers are still at liberty to set and enforce drug use policies.

Other aspects of the law include:

  • A state commission will oversee a system of regulated stores, cultivation facilities, and testing facilities.
  • Businesses must test products and follow packaging and labeling protocols.
  • The state will tax sales, and localities may add additional taxes (they may also regulate the location of marijuana stores).

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, §§ 1 and following (2019).)

Potential Penalties for Possessing Small Amounts of Marijuana in Massachusetts

The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act provides for a range of penalties:

  • Cultivating plants that are visible from a public place (without the use of optical aids) or in an area not secured by a lock can result in a fine of no more than $300 and forfeiture of the marijuana.
  • Possessing up to one ounce within one’s home but without securing it with a lock subjects the person to a penalty of up to $100 and forfeiture of the marijuana.
  • Adults who cultivate more than six but fewer than 13 plants, or who possess in their residence between one and two ounces, are subject to a $100 penalty and forfeiture of the marijuana.
  • Consuming marijuana in a public or otherwise prohibited place subjects the offender to a penalty of up to $100 (exceptions exist for medical marijuana use and any designated place of consumption).
  • Having an open container of marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle subjects the offender to a fine of up to $500.
  • Giving marijuana to someone younger than 21 subjects the offender to a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, § 13 (2019).)

Potential Penalties for Possessing Large Amounts of Marijuana in Massachusetts

It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess large amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts—that is, amounts in excess of those permitted under the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. A violation is a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of $500, up to six months in jail, or both. However, for first offenses, the judge will order the defendant to complete a period of probation in lieu of jail time or fines. Upon successful completion of probation, the charges against the defendant will be dropped, and the defendant’s record will be sealed (it won't be a public record). For second and subsequent offenses, the judge may, but is not obligated to, impose probation in lieu of jail time or fines. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, § 34 (2019).)

Massachusetts’s Laws on Marijuana Cultivation and Possession With Intent to Distribute

It is illegal to knowingly cultivate marijuana plants, unless the activity falls within the small amount exceptions explained above. And only licensed retailers may legally sell marijuana in Massachusetts. Cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute it are punished in the same way. Violations involving 50 or fewer pounds of marijuana are penalized according to whether the violation is a first or a subsequent offense. Amounts greater than 50 pounds are treated as trafficking crimes (more on that below).

  • First offense. Penalties for a first offense include a fine of between $500 and $5,000, up to two years in prison, or both.
  • Second or subsequent offense. For second offenses, the defendant will face a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000, up to two and a half years in prison, or both.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, § 32C (2019).)

Marijuana Trafficking in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, “trafficking” includes knowingly cultivating, selling, or bringing more than 50 pounds of marijuana from out of state. Trafficking is illegal, and penalties vary according to the amount of marijuana involved in the offense.

  • Between 50 and 99 pounds. Penalties include a fine of between $500 and $10,000, and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of one year (and up to 15 years), or both.
  • Between 100 and 1,999 pounds. Penalties include a fine of between $2,500 and $25,000, and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years (and up to 15 years), or both.
  • Between 2,000 and 9,999 pounds. Penalties include a fine of between $5,000 and $50,000, and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three and a half years (and up to 15 years), or both.
  • 10,000 pounds or more. Penalties include a fine of between $20,000 and $200,000, and a mandatory minimum prison sentence of eight years (and up to 15 years), or both.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, § 32E (2019).)

Massachusetts’s Drug Paraphernalia Laws

It is illegal in Massachusetts to possess, use, advertise, or sell drug paraphernalia to minors. Paraphernalia includes items used in growing, harvesting, processing, selling, storing, or using marijuana. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to two years in prison, or both. Selling drug paraphernalia to a child younger than 18 is punishable by at least three years (and up to five years) in prison, a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000, or both. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, § 32I (2019).)

Under the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, it is not a crime for adults to furnish paraphernalia to anyone 21 years of age or older. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94G, § 8 (2019).)

Massachusetts Stamp Taxes

A stamp tax is a tax imposed on certain types of transactions (such as the transfer of property) that requires a stamp to be purchased and attached either to the item sold or to an instrument documenting the transaction (such as a deed). The federal government imposes stamp taxes on deeds, the issue and transfer of stocks and bonds, and on playing cards.

In Massachusetts, those who buy, transport, or import marijuana into Massachusetts, and who are not covered by the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, are required to pay a stamp tax and place the stamp (proof of payment) onto the contraband. However, because this level of possession of marijuana is illegal, people typically don’t pay the stamp tax. When you are convicted for possession, you will also be liable for payment of the unpaid taxes ($3.50 for each gram or portion of a gram). (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 64K, § 8 (2019).)

Get Legal Help

If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of a marijuana charge are governed by statutory law, the law can change at any time. Only a local criminal defense attorney can tell you how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your courthouse.

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