The Braintree Democrat, co-chairman of the Legislature’s marijuana policy committee, called me this week about our report that Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin was not allowing municipalities to hold votes authorizing social consumption facilities (or cannabis cafes) because of what Galvin said was a flaw in state law.
The pronouncement by Galvin, whose office oversees elections, prompted senior officials at the Cannabis Control Commission to say that a legislative fix was necessary before the agency could license such businesses.
Cusack’s reply to Galvin? “Read the goddamn law and follow that,” he snapped.
Cusack emphatically rejected Galvin’s analysis that the statutory process for municipalities to hold votes allowing social consumption is too vague and invalid because it references “provisions of the General Laws relating to initiative petitions at the municipal level” — provisions Galvin says don’t exist.
Cusack argued that there are other similar local processes, and that Galvin’s office has broad discretion to develop its own procedures and guidance for cities and towns to move ahead. He suggested Galvin was simply trying to avoid getting involved in a controversial matter.
“I’m at a loss as to how it would be invalid, since they said there’s nothing on the books that universally governs this,” Cusack explained. “If there’s nothing on the books to violate, how can it be ruled illegal?”
The offices of Galvin and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Cusack continued, “give advice and guidance on every other ballot initiative and policy, but when it comes to marijuana, suddenly everything requires a legislative fix. Suddenly, it’s, ‘we can’t help you, we have no guidance, and anything you do is illegal.’ “
Earlier this year, Galvin and Governor Charlie Baker proposed legislation they said would fix the issue. Galvin had also proposed a similar measure in the Mass. Senate last year when lawmakers were working on their rewrite of the marijuana legalization ballot initiative approved by voters.
But Cusack insisted that bill wasn’t merely a technical change, because it would allow local votes on social consumption annually, while the current law only allows such votes every two years during statewide elections. And, he said, no one from Galvin’s office has come to his office to explain why the fix is needed and help push it forward politically.
“Here we go again with a constitutional officer who spent the six months we were drafting this bill in Switzerland and now wants to come around and Monday-morning-quarterback it,” he said, referring rhetorically to that country’s historic neutrality.
Cusack has the same frustration with the controversy over host community agreements and whether the cannabis commission has the legal authority to review them. If a legislative fix is needed on that issue or social consumption, he said, someone from the commission or Galvin’s office should write the language, meet with him, and push for its passage.
“Only one commissioner has reached out to me about this at all,” Cusack said, referring to Shaleen Title. “My phone’s open, my door’s open, I’m happy to have the conversation. It’s frustrating to constantly talk through press.”
Hear that, commission? The ball, apparently, is in your court.