A voter-approved law allowing adults to possess, grow and use limited amounts of recreational marijuana took effect Thursday in Massachusetts, but it will still be at least another year before the state issues retail licenses to sell the drug. For now, that leaves recreational users with little choice but to buy it from illegal dealers.
The ballot measure passed last month by a margin of more than 240,000 votes out of nearly 3.8 million total votes cast.
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Here's a look at the new law, including what's legal and what's not.
The possession and use of any amount of recreational marijuana by anyone under the age of 21 remains illegal. Adults 21 and over may possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana outside of their homes. Possession of more than 1 ounce but less than 2 ounces can result in a civil fine of up to $100. Possession of more than 2 ounces outside the home is considered a criminal offense. Adults 21 and over may possess up to 10 ounces of pot inside their homes.
The law allows individual adults 21 and over to grow up to 6 marijuana plants at home, and up to 12 plants per household if two or more adults live in the home. Exceeding those limits can result in civil fines or criminal charges. Marijuana plants cannot be grown in a place that is plainly visible from the street or any public area. Tenants take note: Landlords may prohibit you from growing pot plants.
Marijuana can only be legally sold in Massachusetts by a licensed retailer. But there won't be any licenses granted for at least a year, if not longer. First, the law requires creation of a three-member Cannabis Control Commission, overseen by the state treasurer, which among other things will be responsible for reviewing retail applications and eventually licensing pot shops. For now, pot cannot be sold in any fashion (except to registered medical marijuana patients), even though it's legal to possess and use for recreational purposes. Unlicensed sales can bring either civil or criminal penalties.
Marijuana use remains illegal in any public place, including parks and other recreational areas, public streets and sidewalks and so forth. Also a simple rule of thumb: If you are in a place where it is against the rules to use tobacco, it also against the rules to use marijuana. Police can issue civil fines of up to $100 for consumption of marijuana in a public place.
Just like before the law, you can't drive a car under the influence of marijuana. Police can pull a car over and issue citations if they see the driver or passenger smoking marijuana in the vehicle. And similar to the law that bars open containers of alcohol in a car, you can't have open containers of pot, either. That applies whether the car is moving or not and can bring a fine of up to $500. It's OK to have 1 ounce or less of pot in the car if it's in a sealed container.
Workplace policies that restrict marijuana use are not superseded by the new law. Employers can still test workers and prospective workers for drugs, including marijuana. Failing a test can still result in a person being fired, or not hired, even if the marijuana use was legal under state law and occurred outside of the job.
The recreational marijuana law has no direct effect on the state's medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 2012. People with recommendations from their doctors can receive a medical marijuana registration card and purchase the drug from licensed dispensaries for treatment of a specific condition. The law does give operators of medical marijuana dispensaries a leg up on applying for retail licenses.
Want to stuff some weed into someone's Christmas stocking? You can, up to a point. The law allows a person 21 and over to give away up to 1 ounce of pot to another person who is 21 or older.