Baker signs pot bill, raises concerns

'I worry terribly about the consequences,' governor says


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER signed a law on Friday overhauling the marijuana legalization measure voters put on the books in November, and immediately afterward offered a cautious outlook on the future of the cannabis industry in Massachusetts.

“I don’t support this,” Baker said after signing the law in his office, shortly past noon. “I worry terribly about what the consequences over time will be, and having spent a lot of time talking to folks in Colorado and in Washington and having talked to a lot of people who’ve talked to folks in Colorado and Washington, there are a lot of pitfalls that we need to work hard to avoid.”

A vocal opponent of the ballot question that legalized and regulated the use, sale and possession of marijuana by people age 21 and older, Baker praised the work of legislators to address issues dealing with local control, packaging and potency labeling.

“The people voted this, and I think it’s really important that we put the program in place and deliver a workable, safe, productive recreational marijuana market for them in Massachusetts,” he said.

Retail marijuana sales are set to begin in July 2018, just over 11 months away.

The new law raises the maximum tax rate for retail marijuana sales from 12 percent to 20 percent and changes the process by which municipalities can ban marijuana shops within their borders.

Now, the local governing boards of cities and towns that voted against the ballot initiative will be able to institute a ban, while a majority of voters must sign off if they want a ban in communities that supported Question 4 last November.

Baker was joined for the signing by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, lawmakers who had been on either side of the ballot question and members of the conference committee that negotiated the new law: Rep. Jay Livingstone, who supported legalization; Sen. Jason Lewis and Rep. Paul Tucker, who both opposed it; and House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, Rep. Mark Cusack, Rep. Hannah Kane, Sen. Patricia Jehlen, and Sen. Will Brownsberger – all conferees.

“We got the A-team here,” the governor quipped as he entered the room.

The conference committee blew past a June 30 deadline to reconcile the differing House and Senate bills, delivering a compromise to Baker on July 20. Baker described the issue as “very tough and difficult and complicated,” and Mariano drew laughter from the other lawmakers when he interjected to describe the process as “a lot more complicated than you know.”

“I want to thank the Legislature for sticking with this,” Baker said. “This was a very difficult negotiation and a very tough conference committee, and they saw it through all the way to the end and got a bill here.”

Baker had 10 pens on his desk for the signing and distributed them to the legislators afterwards, handing the first one to Lewis — who, like him, was involved in the No on 4 campaign — and thanked him for his leadership.

Cusack, who chairs the Legislature’s Marijuana Policy Committee with Jehlen, said the cannabis industry in Massachusetts has the potential to grow into a multibillion-dollar one and that the committee will keep working on issues that may arise over time.

“There will definitely be jobs, and there will be economic spinoff from growing, manufacturing and retail, so there will be a heavy impact economically.” Cusack said.

The law’s first deadline is Tuesday, by which Baker, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Attorney General Maura Healey must each appoint five members to a Cannabis Advisory Board.

The trio must also name the five members of the industry’s new regulatory body, the Cannabis Control Commission, by Sept. 1.

“I don’t support this,” said Baker – who actively campaigned last year against legalization – after signing the marijuana regulation law.[Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

“The treasurer, the attorney general and our administration and others have a lot of work to do between now and next July to get this thing stood up, and we’re all going to chase it as aggressively as we can,” Baker said.

About an hour after the law was signed, Goldberg announced her five advisory board picks: Norton Arbelaez, who founded RiverRock Medical Marijuana Center in Denver; former Brookline public health and human services director Dr. Alan Balsam; Sage Naturals President and CEO Michael Dundas; Jamie Lewis of Mayflower Medicinals; and attorney and cannabis advocate Shanel Lindsay.

Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the Yes on 4 campaign, said the next main focus for advocates is ensuring that regulators are given sufficient funding and appointments are made on time.

“That’s crucial, and we hope that’s met because we don’t want to see any unintended delays due to appointments not being made in the allotted time,” he said.

Asked after the signing if they had any interest in serving on the commission, three of the marijuana conferees gave blunt responses.

“No,” Cusack said, shaking his head. “No. Nope. Happy in the Legislature.”

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Katie Lannan

State House News Service
Brownsberger said, “I certainly have enough other work to do.”

“Yup,” Jehlen said, agreeing with Brownsberger.