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.
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.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.