At this year’s Moakley Breakfast Forum, five panelists discussed the pros and cons of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts, an initiative voters approved in November 2016.

The event was sponsored by Suffolk University’s Institute for Public Service, Sawyer Business School, Moakley Center for Public Management, Suffolk University, and the Moakley Foundation.

1. Just about every Massachusetts public official opposed Question 4.

Jim Borghesani, communication director for the “Yes on Question 4” campaign, ran down the list of Commonwealth officials who opposed the ballot initiative: The governor. The attorney general. The mayor of Boston. The Massachusetts Medical Society. Virtually every Chamber of Commerce across the state. Every mayor but one in the state.

They all opposed Question 4. “But voters didn’t care,” said Borghesani. “In Massachusetts, voters don’t take their cues from public officials. They approved the initiative 53 percent to 46 percent.” And in contrast to states like Colorado, where “safer-than-alcohol” messaging resonated, Massachusetts voters viewed the issue as more of a policy issue than a personal liberty issue.

2. Medical vs. recreational: the programs are way different.

Kay Doyle of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission explained the distinction between patients and consumers when it comes to marijuana use in the Commonwealth, including:


  • Need to be certified by a doctor or a nurse practitioner
  • Can even be children, with doctor or nurse practitioner approval
  • Need to register with the state and show a special patient ID card at a dispensary
  • Can possess 10 ounces over 60 days, or more if a healthcare provider chooses
  • Can grow a 60-day supply of marijuana plants at home


  • Must be 21, confirmed by a standard ID
  • Can have only one ounce on their person
  • Can grow six marijuana plants at home, or up to 12 under certain circumstances

3. Recreational marijuana will be taxed at (at least) 17 percent.

The tax rate is the lowest of any state that’s implemented recreational marijuana. DJ Napolitano, external affairs liaison for State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (and currently an MPA student at Suffolk’s Sawyer Business School), explained that 10.75 percent of that tax revenue goes to implementation and oversight of the program as well as public safety and public health initiatives. The remaining 6.25 percent goes into the state’s general fund. Towns and cities have the option to add an additional 3 percent.

Taxes on recreational marijuana are projected to raise about $83 million in the first year, $166 million in the second.

4. Local officials are fretting.

As Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission member Jennifer Flanagan pointed out that 46 percent of the people in Massachusetts voted “No” on Question 4. And in some communities, the “No” votes went as high as 60 percent.

While the majority said yes, some cities and towns were opposed. How do officials reconcile that?

“Towns don’t know what main street is going to look like in six months,” said Flanagan. “This is no longer a state ballot question. It’s a town of Lancaster question. A town of Amesbury question. A city of Boston question.” In other words, all politics as local, as Tip O’Neill said.

5. Slow down.

Boston City Councilor Tim McCarthy went on a fact-finding mission to Denver, where he met with marijuana growers, retailers, regulators, and local police. According to McCarthy, they all said the same thing: Don’t rush into this. “Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can’t get it back in,” said McCarthy.

Out in Colorado, he learned that, whether it’s zoning, taxation, restrictions on advertising, you have to get it right the first time.

The net-net of this year’s Moakley Breakfast Forum? Like alcohol, gambling, and tobacco before it, recreational marijuana raises incredibly complex issues, none of which will be easy to solve or will satisfy all constituencies.

Marijuana sales in the Commonwealth are scheduled to commence in July 2018.