In 2008, Massachusetts voters, by 65%, decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, relieving thousands of the yoke of criminality for possessing small amount of marijuana, and the threat that families and careers could be crushed by the punishments—criminal and otherwise—levied on consumers who got caught.

In 2012, by a similar margin, the voters enacted the medical marijuana laws, attempting to provide safe and legal access to medical marijuana for qualified patients. Unfortunately, the Department of Public Health (DPH), responsible for implementing the law, has failed fully to facilitate such access. Only one dispensary has yet opened; ten more, of the 35 initially authorized by the voters, are said to be in the DPH pipeline.

The DPH has recently announced its intention, In the summer of 2015, to process to license more dispensaries, promising to reduce the time between license application and opening.

Now pending in the Massachusetts legislature is H1561, An Act to Tax and Regulate the Cannabis Industry. It is a “full legalization” bill, which sets up a regulatory structure, similar to how alcohol production and distribution are regulated. What distinguishes it from similar laws in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, among other things, is that it authorizes an unlimited number of "pre-retail" operations (cultivation, processing, distribution), plus “cannabis cafes,” where adult consumers may convene with food and (non-alcoholic) drink.

There is no reasonable expectation that the legislature will enact H1561. It is likely, however, but not certain, that in 2016 there will be a voter initiative on the ballot in 2016, whereby voters will enact such a law if the legislature doesn’t.

If a new law is enacted by the legislature or the voters, and the federal government does not interfere, it is possible that as soon as 2017, there will be a legal, regulated market in Massachusetts for marijuana, hemp, and related products.

Please contact us to discuss your interest in the medical marijuana market, or about the future of marijuana in Massachusetts, the post-medical full-adult marijuana market, or otherwise about the future of marijuana in Massachusetts.


Richard M. Evans has practiced law in western Massachusetts for over 35 years, concentrating in the representation of non-profit state and regional land conservation organizations. As a Main Street practitioner, he has represented many business owners, buyers and sellers of residential and commercial real estate, litigants, estate fiduciaries and clients seeking permits or other indulgences from local and municipal boards.For nearly his entire professional career, he has participated prominently in the marijuana legalization effort. In 1981, he authored the first comprehensive regulation/taxation plan to be introduced as legislation in Massachusetts, upon which bills were modeled and introduced in other states. It was re-introduced for the 2011-12 legislative session as H1371, An Act to Tax and Regulate the Cannabis Industry. As a member of NORML’s board of directors, he was the moving force behind NORML’s adoption of the Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use. His numerous op-eds and other writings have helped shape and propel the counter-prohibitionist narrative. He maintains the archive,, a website providing resources for taxing and regulating the developing legal cannabis industry .

Michael D. Cutler has practiced law in Massachusetts for more than 35 years, focusing in criminal defense, civil litigation, and state and municipal administrative proceedings. He has served as a town planning board member, evaluating applications for real estate development permits; he has represented applicants seeking such permits and others, including liquor licenses. He is state-certified to represent prisoners and patients in state criminal post-conviction and mental health proceedings, to train and recertify private lawyers who accept such appointments, and is state-certified to represent prisoners, convicted of murder at trial, in post-conviction proceedings in state and federal court. As a 20-year member of the National Legal Committee of NORML, Attorney Cutler is well connected with colleagues in states that protect medical marijuana. He has consulted to a successful cannabis dispensary licensee in a neighboring state overcoming the threat of federal interference. After practicing in Boston for more than thirty years, he recently relocated his office to Northampton, maintaining a Boston presence for clients in Eastern Massachusetts.