Pro-pot senators pass on blocking delay

Lawmakers were given advance notice of planned vote

SENATE PRESIDENT STANLEY ROSENBERG last week notified three of his colleagues who support marijuana legalization that the Senate was preparing to push back the starting date for retail sales by six months, but none of them showed up to block the move.

Pete Wilson, a spokesman for Rosenberg, said Sens. William Brownsberger of Belmont, Jamie Eldridge of Acton, and Patricia Jehlen of Somerville were notified by the Senate President on Tuesday that the marijuana delay legislation would be taken up the next day at an informal session. During informal sessions, the opposition of a lone lawmaker can block any action.

Brownsberger in a telephone interview and in a post on his website confirmed he was notified by Rosenberg about the marijuana legislation but decided not to block the vote because he thought a six-month delay in retail sales was reasonable. He also said blocking the vote during an informal session would only have prompted Beacon Hill leaders to pass the measure weeks or months later during formal sessions. He warned that other, more significant changes in the marijuana law (he specifically mentioned a hike in the tax rate and sales restrictions) may be coming, and said he will oppose them. “As a participant, you have to pick your battles,” he said.

Jehlen and Eldridge could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Like most of their colleagues on Beacon Hill, they apparently decided a delay of six months would yield a better regulatory framework for marijuana sales. Eldridge, for example, seemed to defend the delay in a tweet last week.

Eldridge and Brownsberger early last year signed on as cosponsors of a bill filed by Jehlen and state Rep. David Rogers of Cambridge that in many ways mirrored the law approved by voters, including the timetable for retail sales. The Jehlen-Rogers bill, which was sent to a study and effectively killed, called for a timeframe that would have allowed retail sales to begin within about 12 months of the legislation’s enactment.

The legislation approved last Wednesday by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday allows retail sales to begin in 18 months – in July 2018 rather than January 2018. The bill also pushed back by six months several other key steps in the law approved by voters in November, including the appointment of a Cannabis Control Commission.

Beacon Hill leaders say the extra time is needed to develop a proper regulatory framework for marijuana sales, but they have also said they are likely to make other changes in the law.  The law passed last week calls for the creation of a Committee on Marijuana in the Legislature to research, review, and draft marijuana-related legislation.

In a statement issued after the bill was approved last week, Rosenberg, a supporter of marijuana legalization, said: “This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law. Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country.”

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, an opponent of legalization, also indicated more changes are likely. “The delay will allow the committee process to work through the law’s complicated implications and provide a process by which we can strengthen, refine, and improve it,” he said in a statement.

It’s unclear whether DeLeo took steps to notify House members about plans to pass new marijuana legislation during last Wednesday’s informal session. A spokesman for DeLeo could not be reached for comment.

Only three senators were present when the legislation delaying marijuana sales passed last week; relatively few House members were on hand for the vote in that chamber.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, a supporter of marijuana legalization, said he wasn’t made aware of the plan to approve marijuana legislation at an informal session, but would have supported the delay. Sen. James Timilty of Walpole told the Sun-Chronicle that he wasn’t made aware of the vote, but said he would have opposed a delay because the law had been approved by voters.

CommonWealth’s Jack Sullivan contributed to this report.

  • casmatt99

    Here it is, you guys snuck it in the last sentence but it’s clear as day:

    “Sen. James Timilty of Walpole told the Sun-Chronicle that he wasn’t made aware of the vote, but said he would have opposed a delay because the law had been approved by voters.”

    This is why Rosenberg only told 3 of his pals, not the entire Senate. Had he notified everyone about their plan, it would have surely not passed since only 1 senator can block the motion in an informal session. But this plan isn’t about fairness or equity or respecting the will of the voters. It’s about one thing: money.

    Six months = more time to fill the state coffers with payments from corporations that can afford to a down-payment while other local companies surely cannot. The state wants to ‘work with stakeholders on improving the new law”, which really means create a framework that will exclude small-time growers and distributors in favor of larger more experienced organizations that have experience in Colorado and California.

    Baker and the opponents of #4 warned that this referendum was written by and for Big Cannabis, and yet the changes they want to make to the law will surely lead to exactly the thing they warned against.

    They take us for fools. Without a large, vocal opposition to further bastardization of the law that was passed these morons will implement another failed bureaucracy akin to the medical marijuana system.