Baker seeks changes in pot law
State Treasurer Goldberg says no rush to implement regs
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
AFTER MASSACHUSETTS VOTERS just said yes to legalizing marijuana Tuesday, Gov. Charlie Baker, an outspoken opponent of the referendum, said he wants a more efficient process of permitting retail pot shops than the extensive procedures the state engaged in to implement medical marijuana.
“By the time we took office we hadn’t opened a single dispensary in Massachusetts and we were two years behind the effective date of that law. I think it’s important that we move as briskly as we can and we take a look at everything,” said Baker, who said the process should be “responsible and timely.”
An advocate of lawmaking by the ballot, Baker reasoned that the public had spoken, though he is also keeping his options open to amend the new law.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who will appoint all three members of the Cannabis Control Commission and whose office will oversee the marijuana industry in Massachusetts, said Wednesday she doesn’t think there should be “rigid deadlines” for the law’s implementation.
Goldberg talked to reporters in her office Wednesday about implementing the marijuana legalization law passed by voters Tuesday.
“We really need to be reasonable. This is about the will of the people and I take that very, very seriously, but if you think about it in the context of how long, even if you’re on a private business, how long it takes to get up and running,” Goldberg told reporters in her office. “Some of those deadlines are pretty tough.”
As approved by about 54 percent of voters Tuesday, the law requires the commission to begin accepting retail license applications from established medical marijuana dispensaries by Oct. 1, 2017 and from others hoping to sell marijuana and associated products by Oct. 1, 2018.
Goldberg said her office may not be able to meet the prescribed deadlines, in part, because of the technical infrastructure that will be required. Even before voters went to the polls Tuesday, Goldberg’s office had published a request for qualifications to begin the search for a company to build the “IT backbone” that will allow the state to track marijuana “from seed to sale,” she said.
“When we get that information back they may say to us, ‘we can’t do this and have you up and running by October to take in applications,'” Goldberg, a Brookline Democrat, said. She predicted that responses to the RFQ would come to her office in January or February.
Asked if she would like to see the Legislature alter the law to defer those deadlines, Goldberg said, “I believe that we will need more time and I think we will be better informed about that when we get the responses to the RFQ.”
Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who supported the ballot measure, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who opposed it, have both indicated a willingness to open up the legislation for some changes.
On the afternoon after the election, where Baker’s positions were defeated on the two ballot questions he campaigned on and Donald Trump was elected president, the governor held a press conference at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about the progress of tearing down toll plazas to help transition the Massachusetts Turnpike and other roads into all electronic tolls. None of the questions at the presser were about tolls.
Unlike the retail marijuana referendum placing the industry under the treasurer’s jurisdiction, medical marijuana centered regulatory authority within the executive branch in the Department of Public Health. Under the law that passed Tuesday the governor is responsible for appointing a 15-member Cannabis Advisory Board to advise the Cannabis Control Commission.
Adult possession, cultivation and gifting of marijuana will become legal Thursday, Dec. 15.
Lawmakers’ perennial aversion to adopting a more permissive set of laws regulating the drug set the stage for three successive ballot questions, which in 2008 decriminalized possession of up to an ounce, in 2012 legalized medical marijuana sales, and on Tuesday legalized retail sales.
After their 2012 victory, marijuana advocates protested that the state was taking too long to permit medical marijuana dispensaries. The state’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened in June 2015 and the Baker administration overhauled the process for permitting the facilities.The governor said he did not want a repeat of that.
“I think we’re going to take a look at whatever elements we need to look at to make sure this thing gets implemented in an efficient and effective way. I don’t want to go through, for example, sort of the disconnects and the false-starts that were associated with the state’s implementation of the medical marijuana law,” Baker said.