Rosenberg: We’re not done with pot
Senate president says Legislature could make more changes to marijuana law
“We created a joint standing committee because we know additional questions are going to come back to us over time and we know that because that’s what happened in Colorado,” Rosenberg said in an interview following a State House News Service forum on the new law and emerging regulations. “We’ll have two, three, four issues a year that people will come to us and say ‘we have to fix this, we have to fix that.’”
Rosenberg also predicted that with nine states now having legal recreational pot and 30 legalizing medical marijuana, the federal government will have to recognize the trend and stop treating marijuana as an illegal controlled substance.
“It’s inevitable that at some point the federal government is going to have to change,” said Rosenberg, who was one of the few elected officials on Beacon Hill to support efforts to pass the ballot question that made marijuana legal. “It will be legalized [by federal officials] sometime.”
Jim Smith, a partner with Smith, Costello, and Crawford and a former state representative in the 1970s who spearheaded a drive to decriminalize individual possession, said cities and towns that ban recreational sales, cultivation, and processing are turning their back on a revenue source as well as ignoring reality.
“It is already in your town,” said Smith, referring to the illegal market. “It is in your middle school. This is a real issue.”
Rosenberg concurred. “The product is out there, it’s being sold today,” he said. “It’s just not being taxed or regulated.”
Rosenberg said he has some concerns about so-called “marijuana deserts” – wide stretches of the state where marijuana won’t be available legally. He said such deserts would be problematic, but he said the potential for revenue gains from licensing retail outlets could help overcome reticence by local communities to accept the establishments. He said the range of tax estimates in the state is based on the availability and access to pot, revenue projections that could help a lot of areas and a lot of programs in the state.
“We had $75 million as the lowest estimate,” said Rosenberg, referring to calculations of tax revenue based on the 17 percent state tax and 3 percent local tax on retail marijuana. “The higher end is $200 million. We’re not doing this for money but, given the fact we’ll have extra revenues, I’m happy we’re going to go beyond the revenue necessary to regulate the industry.”Cannabis Control Commission Chairman Steven Hoffman said at the outset of the forum that his board is scrambling to get regulations drafted by mid-December to meet the deadlines set out by the legislation. By law, the commission has to have the regulations promulgated by March 15 and begin accepting applications for retail, cultivation, manufacturing, and testing beginning April 1. The earliest the board can issue permits and licenses is June 1 with the target date of July 1 for opening stores. But the July 1 date is not written in stone, he said.
“Our mission is honoring the will of the voters by safely, carefully, and equitably implementing the law,” Hoffman told the audience of about 200 people. July 1 is “not a legislative requirement but certainly an expectation. We don’t want to do it fast; we want to do it right.”