By Bob Katzen

The House and Senate approved and sent to Gov. Baker a controversial bill that delays by six months, from January 2018 to July 2018, the earliest possible date for the opening of retail recreational marijuana stores in the Bay State. The January 2018 date was approved by voters in November as part of the ballot question legalizing the use of pot for recreational use.

   Senate President Stan Rosenberg and House Speaker Bob DeLeo orchestrated the delay and the governor has indicated he will sign it.

  The vote took place in the House and Senate on Wednesday with a handful of members present in what is called an informal session in which there can be no roll call votes and everything is approved or rejected on an unrecorded voice vote. 

   However, at an informal session, a single legislator can hold up consideration of a bill until the next formal session. There are no more formal sessions planned for the 2016 Legislature so in fact, any representative or senator who attended the session could have easily delayed approval of the bill and killed it for 2016. It would certainly be filed again for 2017 but there would likely be a public hearing, a debate on the floor of the House and Senate and a recorded roll call vote on the proposal.

   Rosenberg said that the delay is needed because there are many areas of the bill that need to be reviewed and revised. “This version of course was written for the ballot roughly a year, a year and a half before it actually was voted on by the people,” said Rosenberg. “A lot has changed in some of the other states and some of the parts of the bill really need some work. For example, the tax rate, there are questions around addiction and public health and public safety that are either not addressed or we can do a better job based on what we’re seeing in the other states.”   

   “Yes on 4,” the group that spearheaded the legalization, issued a press release saying that they are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter the law in an informal session with little notice about proposed changes. The group says it is willing to consider technical changes to the law so that it is implemented in a timely and responsible manner. “However, our position remains that the measure was written with careful consideration regarding process and timelines and that no major legislative revisions are necessary,” the statement continued. “Further, the voters of Massachusetts approved Question 4 by a significant margin, and any alteration of the law deserves a transparent, deliberative legislative process.”

   This delay does not affect the parts of the law that took effect on December 15 including allowing persons over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside their home, ten ounces in their home and give an ounce or less of marijuana to others. Any quantity above one ounce in the home must be under lock and key. Other provisions that are not affected include allowing the growing of six plants per person in his or her home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.

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