DeLeo open to changing pot law
If ballot question passes, his concerns are tax rate, edibles, OUIs
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
HOUSE SPEAKER ROBERT DELEO is poised in 2017 to make changes to a marijuana legalization proposal should voters adopt it in two weeks.
“I will not hesitate from day one to make changes to it,” DeLeo told WCVB’s On the Record in an interview that aired Sunday.
Under DeLeo, the House has steadfastly avoided marijuana debates, looking on as voters used the ballot in 2008 to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and in 2012 to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. But while ballot activists have seized control of marijuana policy in Massachusetts, DeLeo indicated that the Legislature might be ready to enter the policy fray if legalization passes.
“I will accept, obviously, the will of the voters. But in terms of what further regulations may be necessary, what further changes would have to be made to make it work more efficiently,” DeLeo said. “Obviously when we’re talking about – especially edibles and cookies – what about the ability in terms of what I’ve heard from the police relative to the inability of trying to address people who drive under the influence of marijuana?”
“You want to raise the taxes?” asked co-host Janet Wu.
“That also is going to be a major issue,” said DeLeo.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who announced his support for the ballot question last week, has also indicated a willingness to amend the voter law, if it passes – discussing the timeframes in the law as one area of potential adjustment.
The ballot referendum would create a Cannabis Control Commission run by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg with significant regulatory power. Jim Borghesani, spokesman for the pro-legalization campaign, urged lawmakers to evaluate the commission’s work before making changes to it.
“The concerns raised by Speaker DeLeo will likely be addressed by the Cannabis Control Commission when they write these regulations, so I would suggest that the Legislature wait and see what regulations are actually written, and then if they want to address it at that point they certainly can,” Borghesani told the News Service.
Borghesani also urged a wait-and-see approach to the tax rate.
The ballot question would impose a state sales tax rate of 3.75 percent marijuana excise tax in addition to the 6.25 percent sales tax, meaning a 10 percent state tax on marijuana products. Cities and towns would have the ability to add an up to 2 percent sales tax rate on top of that.
Proponents of Question 4 point to an estimate of $1.1 billion in marijuana sales by 2020, creating a $100 million state tax haul.
Taxes are already slated to become a major issue in the next two-year legislative session. Lawmakers are expected to advance to the 2018 ballot a constitutional amendment that would add a 4 percent surtax on incomes over $1 million.
Opponents of the ballot measure have focused criticism on edible marijuana products, arguing they will be tempting to children. The referendum would legalize edible marijuana products and other products containing marijuana concentrates.
Public safety officials have warned that, unlike alcohol – where roadside breath tests provide a reliable indicator of intoxication – determining whether a driver is impaired by marijuana is a less certain exercise.Though possession of more than an ounce of marijuana and dealing in the leafy green drug remains a crime, there is relatively little enforcement of the existing laws compared to other crimes. Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, told the News Service this month that marijuana-related charges from his office “would be very small and in most cases accompany arrests on other offenses.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts in early October reported that in 2014 there were 1,031 arrests for marijuana sales and 616 arrests for marijuana possession, with arrests disproportionately targeting African Americans. The ACLU said that while black people make up 8 percent of the state’s population, they account for 24 percent of marijuana possession arrests and 41 percent of marijuana sales arrests.