Parents in Massachusetts will soon experience some of the most clearly defined cannabis protections in the country. By voting yes on Question 4, the Bay State became the first on the east coast to legalize adult use and develop a taxed and regulated market for the plant. More importantly, they created one of the true safe havens for parents, patients, and everyone else who wants to enjoy the benefits of marijuana responsibly.
As of December 15, 2016 it will be lawful for adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis in public (but only five grams of it can be in concentrated form). Residents are permitted to have ten ounces in their homes, two more than anywhere else in the country, and to grow up to 12 plants under one roof. Generous citizens of Massachusetts are allowed (and encouraged by the Splimm Team) to give away one ounce of cannabis at a time to anyone over 21, because it will be good for the neighborhood.
The measure establishes a Cannabis Advisory Board to study community impact and forbids anyone without the proper licenses and safety protocols in place from extracting, processing, or concentrating cannabis with chemicals that might explode a small part of that community. Cannabis users cannot be denied medical treatment, including transplants, on the grounds of their use. Employers can still set their own cannabis policies and use discretion as to personnel decisions.
The state will accept applications to test, grow, process, manufacture, and sell adult use cannabis starting on October 1, 2017, which means shelves won’t be stocked until sometime during the summer of 2018 at the earliest.
Explicit parental protections
The homegrow provision, though, along with the safeguards for consumers, give Massachusetts one of the more progressive regulated cannabis programs in the country. While other child service agencies in legal markets have offered vague assurances that parents who aren’t putting their children at risk have nothing to fear, Question 4 makes clear that cannabis use, in and of itself, is not grounds for state intervention and cannot be used against a parent in custody cases:
Absent clear, convincing and articulable evidence that the person’s actions related to marijuana have created an unreasonable danger to the safety of a minor child, neither the presence of cannabinoid components or metabolites in a person’s bodily fluids nor conduct permitted under this chapter related to the possession, consumption, transfer, cultivation, manufacture or sale of marijuana, marijuana products or marijuana accessories by a person charged with the well-being of a child shall form the sole or primary basis for substantiation, service plans, removal or termination or for denial of custody, visitation or any other parental right or responsibility. (Question 4, Section 7, Paragraph D)
Shaleen Title, co-drafter of Question 4, who worked with Marijuana Policy Project and Family Law & Cannabis Alliance to write the provision and guarantee its inclusion in regulations, says they were simply trying to provide the considerations a parent would receive in any other situation, where circumstance outweighs the substance:
“The Massachusetts law that passed Tuesday basically says that people who use marijuana legally cannot have their parental rights taken away solely for that reason. It’s common sense – if parents are using marijuana responsibly, they should be left alone just like parents who use alcohol responsibly.”
A child’s best interest
Title is adamant that all of this is in a child’s best interest. If cannabis, like alcohol or gambling, is putting someone at risk, the Department of Children and Families can intervene. She contends, “If their substance use is causing a problem for them as parents, that problem should be the basis for further action.” Advocates hope this prevents the unfair targeting of families, oftentimes from poor and minority communities, for marijuana use.
As organizations like Strategies For Youth have pointed out, government intervention can be far more traumatic for a child than sensible cannabis consumption. According to Title, “It comes down to this: most people who use marijuana do so responsibly, but like most enforcement tools, parental rights decisions have been used to unfairly punish some people who use marijuana and not others. Taking someone’s child away is arguably the worst thing you can do to a person, and we see it continue to happen in other legalization states.” Bravo to Massachusetts for setting a different precedent here.
The changing landscape
A lot of people ask us what the new regime means for cannabis, and the best we can say is it’s unclear. Many of those under consideration for the position of Attorney General have opposed legalization in the past. It was Eric Holder, part the Obama administration, who decided to only enforce certain aspects of federal law through the Cole Memo, allowing the cannabis industry to flourish over the past six years.
But the addition of Massachusetts to the legal landscape, along with California, Nevada, and Maine puts 20 percent of the country in states with regulated markets.
And while there may be things the government can do to prevent or even shut down retail stores and suppliers, there has never been an effective way to stop a robust network of home gardeners. Question 4 immediately legalizes personal cultivation and affords responsible parents peace of mind, regardless of what neighborhood they live in. It’s a protection the community has never enjoyed before.