Pot rollout tentative in Cali

Retail pot stores began opening across California on New Year’s Day, at least six months ahead of Massachusetts even though voters in both states approved the legalization of recreational marijuana at the same time.

The California rollout was a bit tentative. To sell cannabis commercially in California, marijuana businesses need a state license and local approval. Reliable statistics on businesses that have both were in short supply. One report said 100 stores were licensed by the state to sell cannabis on Monday, but California officials said only 49 licenses had been issued as of Friday.

Pot was for sale in Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, and San Diego, but there were no store openings in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Los Angeles hasn’t issued a license to any stores yet, but officials say that is expected to change in the coming weeks. Many expect the California pot market to grow to $7 billion in sales by 2020.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized recreational marijuana sales at the same time in November 2016. Massachusetts is aiming for a July launch, while Maine’s rollout is in limbo in the wake of Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the law in November.

Massachusetts is trailing California on pot sales because the Legislature in December 2016 approved a six-month delay in implementing most of the voter-approved law’s provisions. “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,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo at the time.

But getting to yes on Beacon Hill wasn’t easy. The House and Senate were far apart on many key provisions, and the final legislation wasn’t approved until mid-July last year. The Massachusetts legislation was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker at the end of July, and since then the Cannabis Control Commission has been trying to bulk up to see if an industry launch is possible this summer.

The stories on California’s first day of pot sales included the usual stuff – long lines, jubilant customers, and explainers on what to expect. There were stories about the need to pay in cash (pot remains illegal under federal law, so banks are reluctant to approve federally regulated credit transactions) and California Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to develop a banking workaround.

Overall, pot’s legal debut in California seemed to be pretty low-key, with recognition that a lot remains to be done. The state licensing process is not in full gear yet and at least 300 cities, including Riverside, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Anaheim, have barred retail pot sales.

Many customers said they were astounded at the high prices. The California law imposes a 15 percent state excise tax on retail sales and allows local officials to assess a tax of as much as 8.5 percent. Taxes are also assessed on growers. (The Massachusetts law, by contrast, imposes slightly lower taxes – the existing 6.25 percent state sales tax, a 10.75 percent state excise tax, and a local option tax up to 3 percent.)

Jeff Poel, president of the Ecological Cannabis Organization, which runs a store in Eureka, California, said the taxes in California are too high. “If you tax something too much it creates a black market, but we already have one,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

As the page turns on a new year, the Legislature continues to defy calls from the state’s 11 district attorneys, the attorney general, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, and the governor to update the state wiretapping law. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial says the Legislature has a busy agenda, including criminal justice reform and other bills, after a year of little accomplishment outside of a big pay raise for themselves. A Globe editorial also calls on lawmakers to get off the dime, highlighting a pending renewal of the state’s life sciences initiative and the need for home-sharing regulations as two issues to take up.

Andre Leroux and Lisa Wong say Beacon Hill needs to create incentives for local communities to increase the housing stock. (CommonWealth)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Marty Walsh was sworn in for a second term as Boston mayor, pledging an agenda to boost the middle class and help the poor land there, including a vow to rebuild the bridge to city-owned Long Island and its services for homeless people and those in recovery from substance abuse. (Boston Globe) Incoming City Council president Andrea Campbell said the 13-member body will be an independent voice, working with the administration to advance the city but not shying away from clashing with it when deemed necessary. (Boston Herald)

Joe Battenfeld says former vice president Joe Biden, who spoke at Walsh’s swearing-in, overshadowed the mayor. He clearly overshadowed potential 2020 rival Elizabeth Warren — as she wasn’t there. (Boston Herald)

Warren was at a mayoral inauguration, though — for Framingham’s first-ever mayor, Yvonne Spicer. (Boston Globe) In her inauguration speech, Spicer called on the state’s newest city to draw on its diverse population to forge a new future. (MetroWest Daily News)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell laid out an ambitious agenda for his fourth term, saying he will seek legislative approval to force unions to arbitration over health care costs if they can’t find common ground and continue the controversial state-mandated school reforms. (Standard-Times)

Larry Novak, a one-time high-ranking state GOP official who served six years for money laundering through his law practice, is back in charge of the Brockton Republican City Committee and compared himself to Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, both of whom also spent time behind bars. (The Enterprise)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

After three straight years of increases, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty dropped in 2017 to the second-lowest level in the past 50 years. (U.S. News & World Report)

Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America whose claims of sexual harassment at Fox News led to the ouster of network head Roger Ailes, was tapped to take over as chairwoman of the beauty pageant after the former chairman was fired following publication of misogynist emails that he wrote. (New York Times)

The federal medical device tax resumes after a two-year hiatus. (Associated Press)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Bruce Vogel, a Newburyport city councilor and the owner of Plum Island Coffee Roasters, canceled his membership in the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce to protest the hiring of former Essex County sheriff Frank Cousins as president. (Eagle-Tribune)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Hospitals are often ill-prepared to deal with medical treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. (Boston Globe)

The cold wave that has everyone shivering is life-threatening to homeless people on the streets. (Boston Globe)

Harvey Makadon, a well-known doctor who was dismissed by the Fenway Community Health Center because of allegations of bullying and sexual harassment, also stepped down from positions he held at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA has suspended ferry service from Hingham and diverted passengers to the commuter rail because of ice damage to one of the docks from the extreme cold and lunar tides. (Patriot Ledger)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Stephen Dodge of the New England Petroleum Council says the state and the region are paying a high price for inaction on natural gas pipelines. (CommonWealth)

Cynthia Curtis, who works for a commercial real estate company, says businesses want the state to impose stronger clean energy mandates. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

State Police arrested a former Stonehill College worker for a shooting last fall that injured another employee that school officials had initially attempted to keep quiet, classifying it as a “workplace incident.” (The Enterprise)

MEDIA

Boston Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis retires. (WBUR)

Globe editor Brian McGrory’s end-of-year memo to the staff declares the paper to be the best in all the land with no apparent internal problems to deal with so he’s urging everyone to work less and enjoy home life more. (Media Nation)

A.G. Sulzberger, the new publisher of the New York Times, wrote a letter to readers. (New York Times)