Massachusetts lawmakers pledged to enact a new marijuana law by the end of this month, but the House and the Senate plans to regulate the new industry differ meaningfully on taxes and how to control sales.
The House voted  126-28 to alter marijuana legalization as approved by voters last November. The House hiked taxes from 12 percent on retail sales to 28 percent.
The House also changed how towns and cities could bar marijuana from their communities. Currently, a municipality can prohibit dispensaries only through a local ballot question. The House would give city councils and select boards that power. The House hopes to incentivize local sales by offering a cut of the pot tax.
The House vote sets up a clash with the State Senate, which has it's own version of a cannabis bill. Senators prefer to keep the tax rate at 12 percent, contending that too high a tax will encourage the marijuana black market.
However, a higher pot tax means more revenue for the state - not only to cover regulation and enforcement, but also to help bolster a repeatedly strained state budget. The relentless increase in health care costs and unpredictable tax collections have some on Beacon Hill worried.
"It's in no one's interest to implement and to regulate this new marketplace on a shoestring budget and that's what we avoid by ensuring that we capture the revenue necessary to implement this in the best way for the people of the commonwealth," Marijuana Policy Committee House Chairman Mark Cusack (D-Braintree) said during his introduction to the bill. Cusack said the 28 percent tax would put Massachusetts in the middle of the pack of states with legalized cannabis.
The House adopted an amendment to dedicate $50 million dollars to substance abuse programs.
Instead of leaving regulation up to the new commission in charge of the industry, the House bill takes on some direct regulations and restrictions. Cusack said the bill also addresses concerns about how to regulate edible marijuana products.
"We mandate at a minimum, opaque and childproof packaging. We limit 10 milligrams of THC per serving size of edibles and we make sure it is identified on the package if a package contains more than one serving size," Cusack said.
The Senate's version of the bill will be debated Thursday and hews closer to the voter-approved law. The House and Senate will have to compromise on taxes and other issues before the pot provisions can move to Gov. Baker.
Expect new retail pot shops to open their doors late next year.