Baker signs pot sale delay into law
Caps three days of Beacon Hill power moves
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday signed into law a bill that will delay retail sales of marijuana for at least six months, capping an unusual series of holiday-week power moves to amend legislation approved by voters in November.
The marijuana sales delay was not unexpected, but how it was done – during a holiday week at sparsely attended informal sessions of the Legislature and then signed into law by Baker on the Friday before New Year’s weekend – raised a lot of eyebrows.
Baker signed the bill into law at 10:24 a.m., but word did not leak out until after a handful of marijuana supporters vented to reporters in front of the State House about how a handful of lawmakers had altered a law approved by 1.8 million voters.
Informal sessions of the Legislature are normally preoccupied with noncontroversial pieces of legislation because an objection by a single lawmaker can put a bill on hold. Still, major pieces of legislation can pass in informal sessions as long as a lawmaker from both political parties is present when the vote is taken. That’s what happened when the bill whisked through the Legislature on Wednesday with no advance notice to the public and no debate.
In the House, the key players were Rep. Paul Donato, a Medford Democrat, and Rep. Donald Wong, a Saugus Republican. Two separate votes were taken in the House, both taking a minute or two.
Other lawmakers attending the House session on Wednesday included Democratic Reps. Paul Tucker of Salem, Louis Kafka of Sharon, Paul McMurtry of Dedham, Joseph McGonagle Jr. of Everett, and Paul Brodeur of Melrose. It was not clear whether all of the reps were present when the marijuana measure was approved.
The newly approved marijuana legislation amends the law approved by voters in several respects. The most significant change is to delay the opening of recreational marijuana shops from January 2018 to July 2018. The law also pushes back the formation of a three-person Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the new industry from Marcy 2017 to September 2017. The new law also charges the Department of Public Health with conducting a baseline study of marijuana use in the state.
The intent of the legislation was to give state officials more time to prepare for marijuana legalization and propose other changes in the law, including whether to hike the tax rate on marijuana sales. Under current law, it is legal to possess, smoke, and even grow marijuana, but it is not legal to purchase pot, creating a very uncertain legal environment for users.Baker had 10 days to ponder the bill sent to him by the House and Senate, but he took only two, choosing to sign the measure just prior to the New Year’s holiday.
“The Baker-Polito Administration has been clear that it shares the Legislature’s desire to thoroughly prepare for launching an entirely new industry distributing a controlled substance and is committed to adhering to the will of the voters by implementing the new law as effectively and responsibly as possible,” said Lizzy Guyton, the governor’s press secretary, in a statement.