House, Senate OK delay in marijuana law
Bill rushed through in scarcely attended mid-holiday session
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
THE HOUSE AND SENATE on Wednesday passed a bill (S 2524) that would delay the licensing of retail marijuana outlets by six months, which could push the regulated sale of pot well into 2018. Possession, use, and marijuana home-growing provisions of the law took effect Dec. 15 and those aspects of the ballot law are not altered in the legislation.
Without advance notice, legislative leaders introduced the delay bill at sessions that began at 11 a.m. and whisked it through both branches. Only a handful of legislators were present to move the bill along and it received final approval votes in the House at 1:10 p.m. and in the Senate at 1:13 p.m. The votes took place midway between Christmas and New Year’s, a time when the Legislature rarely takes up anything substative.
The proposed changes to the voter-approved ballot question would need Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature to become law. An aide to Baker did not directly address whether the governor collaborated with lawmakers on the delay bill. A spokeswoman for Baker, an opponent of marijuana legalization, said he would “carefully review” the legislation.
A spokeswoman for Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said she had not worked with lawmakers on the bill. Goldberg is responsible for appointing the Cannabis Control Commission and has advocated for delay in implementing aspects of the law.
Baker has previously endorsed a delay of a “reasonable time-period” to allow officials to address public health, safety, and local control issues.
“The folks in the Legislature have talked about putting some sort of a delay in place at some point so that some of these issues around public health and public safety and local decision-making can get addressed, and if the Legislature decides that that’s a direction they want to go in, we’ll certainly work with them on it,” Baker said earlier in December. “But as I’ve said before, we need to be cognizant of the fact that the people have spoken on this and we certainly believe there are things we can do to improve the public safety and public health pieces in particular, but we need to respect the fact that the voters voted for this.”
According to House and Senate leaders, the bill extends by six months deadlines in the ballot law for the state “to appoint the Cannabis Control Commission, draft and approve regulations, vet applicants, and issue licenses for retail sales and cultivation, and to establish seed-to-sale tracking systems.”
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg issued a joint press release as the bill was being sped through the branches, saying the measure would allow the Legislature “more time to improve the ballot question, take up issues not addressed by the ballot question, and allow the state more time to implement the will of the voters.”The bill also directs the state Department of Public Health to contract for a study of marijuana use, including patterns of use and methods of consumption, incidents of impaired driving and marijuana-related hospitalizations and the economic impacts on the state.
Rosenberg and DeLeo also announced they plan to form a new Committee on Marijuana featuring members of both branches “to work with stakeholders to research, review, and draft marijuana-related legislation.”