massachusetts marijuana laws and penalties

Massachusetts law about marijuana

Table of Contents

Recreational marijuana

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.94G. The primary marijuana possession law.
Includes who may possess marijuana, and how much.

MGL c.94C § 32L Possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana

MGL c.94C § 32M Possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana; drug awareness program for those under 18

Other related laws
  • MGL c.10, § 76 and § 77 Cannabis Control Board and Advisory Board
  • MGL c.64N Marijuana tax
  • MGL c.94C Controlled substances act.
    Includes penalties for other drugs, trafficking or possession of larger quantities of marijuana.

Massachusetts regulations

830 CMR 64N Marijuana retail taxes

935 CMR Medical and recreational marijuana regulations

Federal laws

21 USC §§ 801-971 Drug abuse prevention and control

  • 21 USC § 844 Penalties for simple possession

18 USC § 922(g)(3) prohibits any person who uses marijuana from shipping, transporting, receiving or possessing firearms or ammunition.

Selected case law

Comm. v. Cruz, 459 Mass. 459 (2011).
Police can’t order a person out of a car just because they smell burned marijuana.

Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, 477 Mass. 775 (2017)
Talks about the use of field sobriety tests, and includes new Model Jury Instruction Regarding Roadside Assessments for Use in Prosecutions for Operating Under the Influence of Marijuana.

Comm. v. Keefner, 461 Mass. 507 (2012). The law which “decriminalized possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, did not repeal the offense of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, . where the amount of marijuana possessed is one ounce or less.”

Comm. v. Long, 482 Mass. 804 (2019)
“The overwhelming odor of unburnt marijuana wafting from a large, windowless, cinder-block warehouse, . in a place where marijuana cultivation was not allowed under State law; evidence of an apparent break-in; and two isolated vehicles parked in what police officers viewed as a suspicious manner after ordinary business hours . was sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to search a warehouse for evidence of illegal marijuana cultivation.”

Comm. v. Richardson, 479 Mass. 344 (2018)
Addresses the prosecution of a person for trafficking in marijuana where that person was legally permitted to grow marijuana for medical purposes. Includes new model jury instructions.

Comm. v. Rodriguez, 472 Mass. 767 (2015). The smell of burned marijuana isn’t enough for police to stop a vehicle.


A running list of recreational marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts – and those soon to open,
Provides information on dispensaries, including locations, hours, parking, and payment options.

Web sources

Can my financial aid be affected by marijuana use? and other marijuana-related concerns for college students, MassLive, April 2019.
Even though recreational use is legal in Massachusetts, use by college students can cause ” a major legal headache and the potential loss of financial aid if a student does not follow the law .”

Guidance on home cultivation. To grow marijuana in your home:

  • You must be at least 21 years old
  • You can only grow up to 6 plants in your home
  • If there’s more than one person over 21 living in the home who wants to grow at home, the maximum number of plants that may be grown in a home is 12 plants
  • The plants must be grown in an area that has a lock or security device
  • The plants can’t be visible from a public place without the use of binoculars, aircraft or other optical aids
  • You can’t manufacture at home marijuana or hemp by means of any liquid or gas, other than alcohol, that has a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit

“Like alcohol, you cannot have an open container of adult-use marijuana or marijuana products in the passenger area of your car while on the road or at a place where the public has access. An “open container” includes a package with its seal broken or a package from which the contents have been partially removed. The “passenger area” does not include a trunk or a locked glove compartment.”

Print Sources

Criminal law (Mass. practice v. 32) West Group, with supplement. Section 466.50 Act establishing a sensible state marijuana policy.

Massachusetts proof of cases, West Group. Annual edition. Section 47:2, Marijuana – possession and use by adults

Medical marijuana

Massachusetts law

MGL c.94I Medical use of marijuana
Allows use of marijuana for medical purposes.


935 CMR Cannabis Control Commission

Selected cases

Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC, 477 Mass. 456 (2017)
An employee who has been fired for using medical marijuana off-site, and not before or during work, may sue her employer for handicap discrimination.

Wright’s Case, 486 Mass. 98 (2020)
A workers’ compensation insurer cannot be compelled to pay for an employee’s medical marijuana.

Web sources

Medical use of marijuana program, Cannabis Control Commission
Includes links to information for patients, dispensaries and more.

Medical marijuana, Mass. Medical Society
Links to information on issues for physicians regarding medical marijuana

Medical marijuana dispensaries, Mass. Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
Provides the location and hours of all registered medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts.

Open letter to all Federal firearms licensees, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, September 21, 2011.
“any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on recreational and medical use of marijuana in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Marijuana Laws

In November of 2016, Massachusetts voters passed Question 4, officially legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years of age or older. The law went into effect on December 15, 2016 and the state’s recreational-use market officially began sales on November 20, 2018. Be sure to check out our dispensary directory page for a complete listing of legal dispensaries.


In November of 2012, 63 percent of voters endorsed Question 3, making Massachusetts the 18th state in the country to allow medical marijuana use. Under the medicinal marijuana statute, which went into effect in 2013, qualifying patients 18 years of age or older with certain debilitating medical conditions can possess and use marijuana if they have a physician certification. Without the necessary paperwork for medicinal marijuana, the possession of medical marijuana in Massachusetts is against the law.

Under Massachusetts’ new recreational cannabis laws, adults 21 years of age or older are allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of concentrate outside of their residence and up to ten ounces of marijuana inside their residence. Additionally, adults may possess and cultivate up to 6 marijuana plants with a maximum of 12 per household.

Purchasing Limits

The amount of medical marijuana a patient may purchase in Massachusetts is currently limited to a 60 day supply of up to 10 ounces from a dispensary with each prescription. Patients might be able to purchase more if their doctor deems it medically necessary.

As of November 20, 2018, recreational dispensaries are officially open to the public. Adults 21 years of age or older with a valid, government-issued ID are able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of concentrate. Where to Buy

Store Hours

Individual cities are free to regulate the hours of Massachusetts marijuana dispensaries, so times will vary. Check out our Massachusetts dispensary directory for more information.


Although medical and recreational cannabis are both legal in Massachusetts, it is still illegal to consume in public. This includes public transportation, parks, schools, sidewalks and more — so as a rule of thumb, discretion is key. At this point in time, legal cannabis consumption is limited to private residences only. There have been discussions on whether or not the state will allow cannabis social lounges in the future, but lawmakers have decided to hold off for the time being.

Medical Marijuana

A physician certification is a document signed by a doctor who believes the benefits of using marijuana outweigh the risks in your case. The physician certification also states the debilitating condition, which may include any of the following:

  • AIDS
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Other debilitating conditions as determined in writing by your doctor

Keep in mind that Massachusetts’ medicinal marijuana law doesn’t allow qualified patients to obtain a physician certification from just any physician. Patients must have a “bona fide physician-patient relationship” in an effort to prevent doctor mills from popping up and churning out baseless medicinal marijuana certifications.

Under the law, a bona fide physician-patient relationship exists between doctors acting in the regular course of their practice and a patient with whom they’ve had a complete clinical visit. The doctor must complete and document an assessment of the patient’s current medical conditions and medical history, explain the risks and benefits of marijuana use, and play a role in the patient’s treatment and ongoing care. Typically speaking, these certifications will cost around $200 (from places like Canna Care or GreenWay Massachusetts).

Patients also need to register with the Medical Use of Marijuana Program to receive an ID card authorizing you to have medical marijuana. The registration fee is $50 unless your income falls below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Once approved, patients will need to have their Program ID Card and a state-issued photo ID with them to possess or purchase medical marijuana legally. Once a patient’s certification and registration are in order, they are allowed to possess a sixty-day supply of marijuana, or up to 10 ounces, unless a doctor determines their condition warrants higher doses. Get Your Card

Driving under the Influence

Driving under the influence of marijuana in Massachusetts will result in an OUI (operating under the influence) charge, a misdemeanor for a first offense. While some states require a minimum amount of marijuana to be in your system to prove impairment, Massachusetts has no such minimum. Instead, a determination of impairment is made on a case-by-case basis. If you’re convicted of an OUI, penalties range from hefty fines, license suspension, jail time and more.

Transporting Marijuana

Unless you are an adult 21 years of age or older, registered medical marijuana patient, caregiver or an agent of a registered marijuana dispensary, transporting marijuana in Massachusetts is illegal. Patients with valid medicinal marijuana ID cards are allowed to carry as much marijuana as their doctor prescribes for a 60-day supply. As stated above, that limit is 10 ounces unless a patient’s doctor prescribes otherwise.

Registered caregivers may transport a patient to and from marijuana dispensaries or purchase marijuana for the patient from a dispensary and transport it to the patient. Additionally, agents of dispensaries are allowed to transport marijuana to other dispensaries, testing facilities, and to the homes of caregivers and registered patients.

Adults 21 years of age or older are allowed to carry and transport up to their legal limit of one ounce of marijuana or 5 grams of marijuana concentrate.

Exporting Marijuana

Even though medical and recreational marijuana are both legal in Massachusetts (and nearly half the country), marijuana is still an illegal controlled substance under federal law. This means that if you travel across state lines with it, you could be charged with a felony crime at the federal level. Similarly, you might be arrested for possession in a state that doesn’t allow cannabis, even if you are a legally registered medical marijuana patient in Massachusetts.

Some states that allow medical marijuana have reciprocity with other states, which means they honor one another’s medical marijuana prescriptions. However, that still doesn’t mean that you can transport your marijuana across state lines. Instead, you’ll likely have to register with the state you’re visiting and purchase any medical marijuana you need from a dispensary in that state.

Federal Land and Properties in Massachusetts

Again, although Massachusetts allows medical and recreational marijuana, the federal government does not. That means you could be charged with a federal crime if you’re caught with marijuana on federal lands, including parks, forests, and monuments. Your medical marijuana registration card won’t do you any good with federal law enforcement, so if you’re visiting federal lands, keep your cannabis at home.


Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law allows both registered patients and caregivers to cultivate cannabis. Registered patients may cultivate marijuana if requiring them to purchase their medical cannabis from a dispensary would result in “hardship.” That means their access to dispensaries is limited by documented financial hardship, a physical inability to access transportation, or the lack of a dispensary within a reasonable distance from the patients’ homes. As of 2013, patients can also get a written recommendation from their physicians to cultivate marijuana.

For those who qualify for the hardship exception, they or their caregivers may grow a limited number of marijuana plants — only as many as are sufficient to yield a 60-day supply. They can only cultivate and store their marijuana in an enclosed, locked area hidden from public view. The marijuana can be cultivated at the caregiver’s primary residence or the patient’s, but not both.

Massachusetts legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2012, and recreational use in 2016. We offer practical information about marijuana laws and legal issues for those planning a trip or vacation to Boston or Massachusetts. ]]>