Senate leader confirms parts of pot law may be delayed
A top Massachusetts lawmaker Monday confirmed legislators are talking about delaying aspects of the measure to legalize marijuana, a ballot initiative approved by more than 1.7 million voters last month.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said, “We’ve had discussions about delaying some of the dates to give us more time to fine-tune the bill and, in the next few weeks, we have to make final decisions on that.”
Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who supported legalization, told reporters if lawmakers slow the rollout, “it’s going to be a very time-limited delay.” And, he said, changes to the timing of the measure could happen in informal legislative sessions over the holiday season, which are usually attended by just a few elected officials.
On Thanksgiving, the Globe reported lawmakers were discussing delaying several aspects of the measure, including when residents could legally grow marijuana at home and when retail stores could sell the drug. Until Monday, legislators were mostly mum on that Globe report.
The initiative, which passed 54 to 46 percent, legalizes marijuana for possession, use, and home-growing on Dec. 15 — a week from Thursday. It mandates the state treasurer appoint a three-person Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the new industry by March 2017. And it authorizes retail stores to start selling the drug in January 2018.
But, once the vote is certified, the legalization initiative will be a law like any other. That means the House and Senate can change it through the normal legislative process. However, during informal sessions, a single legislator can thwart the proceedings.
Rosenberg said changes to all the dates in the measure are “on the table.”
But he said there is a “a strong feeling that we ought to be looking at the later dates, rather than the earlier dates.”
Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat who opposed legalization, echoed those comments. But his words did not make clear if he was staking out a position in favor of slowing implementation.
The legislators made the comments after a closed-door meeting with Governor Charlie Baker in which the state’s tight budget appeared to be a major part of the conversation. The fiscal squeeze also came up in the discussion with the press.
Proponents of legalization spotlighted what they framed as the dissonance between difficult fiscal times and delaying implementation of the pot initiative.
“It’s encouraging that these leaders seem to be indicating that there will be no attempt to delay the December 15 possession and home-grow provisions,” said Jim Borghesani, who helped lead the effort to pass Question 4.
But given the state’s difficult financial position, he said, “it seems counterintuitive that they would consider pushing back the post-December 15 timelines and in doing so push back a significant new revenue stream.”
The measure imposes a 3.75 percent tax on marijuana sales, in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. It also gives towns and cities the authority to add an additional 2 percent tax to local sales.