Secretary of State William F. Galvin said Monday that the results of the Massachusetts marijuana legalization measure passed by voters may not be certified in time for it to go into effect Dec. 15, when the drug is slated to become legal for possession and use.
A successful ballot initiative does not officially become law until it is certified by the eight-member Governor’s Council, a Colonial-era body that meets every Wednesday.
Galvin, the state’s top election official, said the earliest that official ballot question voting tallies are likely to be presented is at the Dec. 14 meeting. “And that is a 50-50 proposition,” he said.
In an interview, Galvin said there is no calculated effort to delay implementation, and the law is certain to be certified by the beginning of next year.
“All those tokers can hold their breath a little longer, but they’ll be able to exhale” by early 2017, he quipped.
The timing is the latest bit of news to frustrate legalization advocates. They have also expressed dismay at Beacon Hill lawmakers’ discussions about altering or delaying aspects of the measure, including possibly holding off on legal marijuana shops until mid-2018.
One top legalization advocate appeared miffed by Galvin’s announcement.
“I would hope that the secretary of state errs on the positive side of that 50-50, and that he and the Governor’s Council would be able to certify given the deadline date” in the initiative, said Will Luzier, who managed the successful Question 4 campaign.
“I’m a little surprised, honestly, by that development because I just assumed the process was going forward,” he said. Luzier, a lawyer, said he expects the more than five weeks between Election Day and Dec. 15 is enough time to formally affirm the results.
So why the potential delay? Galvin said the election fell later than usual in November this year, and, to await overseas and military ballots, the results could not be locked in until Nov. 18.
Since then, his office has been working with city and town officials to confirm the results. They focused first on the presidential election tallies, which were released Monday and will probably be certified by the council this week.
“By state statute, we were required to preference the electors,” he said, referring to the people who will meet in Boston and every other state capital on Dec. 19 to formally cast their ballots for president. “No one is trying to delay the marijuana question deliberately,” he said. “It’s just the presidency of the United States is more important than legalizing marijuana.”
Galvin said his office has “very limited staff, dealing with a lot of numbers and a lot of details. And it has to be exact; these are the official numbers.”
Outgoing Councilor Michael J. Albano said that he would be surprised if the legalization question is not ready for certification before Dec. 15, adding that the body meets regularly and will be ready to act when Galvin has the results.
“We meet every week so if it’s not ready on the 30th, we’ll be there on December 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th,” he said with a chuckle.
The warning from Galvin came the same afternoon Luzier and other marijuana advocates met with Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg. And it came days after the Globe reported the Legislature is considering delaying the opening of marijuana shops, as well as when it would be legal for people to grow pot at home. (Once certified, an initiative petition is like any other law and the Legislature can amend it.)
The ballot measure, which passed with more than 1.7 million votes this month, allows possession, use, and home growing on Dec. 15 of this year, and permits stores to sell marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
State officials, such as Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg who will oversee the new industry, have argued that to create an effective new bureaucracy that can regulate and police recreational marijuana sales requires more time than the ballot question gives them.
The initiative calls for the creation of a three-person Cannabis Control Commission appointed by the treasurer.
That group will be in charge of making and enforcing rules for marijuana shops, cultivation houses, infused product manufacturers (that make things like marijuana brownies and sodas), and testing facilities.
But longtime legalization advocate Richard M. Evans, who helped write the ballot initiative, said Monday that concerns about the timetable of the law are not founded in reality.
He said Colorado managed to implement a regulated retail marijuana market in the same amount of time that the law gives Massachusetts regulators.
Officials on Beacon Hill are also worried about the home cultivation provision of the law, which, starting Dec. 15, allows people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants per household.
Colorado regulators say they have struggled with people legally growing marijuana at home and then illegally diverting it to the black market in other states for a big profit. Home-grown marijuana isn’t regulated and tracked like marijuana for commercial sale is.
But advocates in Massachusetts say those arguments are a red herring because Colorado has different and more permissive laws related to people growing marijuana at home.
They say it’s important to have a home cultivation provision for medical patients who might not want to register with the state, for people who might not want to purchase their marijuana at a store, and for hobbyists.
Marijuana has been illegal in Massachusetts for more than a century and, on Nov. 8, voters swept away the long reign of prohibition 54 percent to 46 percent, according to unofficial results.