Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2016
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2016 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: John Tlumacki


A man showed the marijuana he was selling on Boston Common earlier this

It took less than an hour and about a half-dozen state legislators to undo
the will of 1.8 million voters expressed just last month.

The House and Senate passed a bill on Wednesday delaying the opening date
for recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts by half a year - from
January to summer 2018.

The extraordinary move would unravel a significant part of the marijuana
law. About 1.5 million people voted against legalization on Nov. 8.

Part of the new law - legalizing possession and home-growing - took effect
on Dec. 15. That wouldn't change under the measure, which emerged
Wednesday morning in the state Senate. Together, both chambers took under
an hour to pass the bill.

But drafters of the marijuana legalization measure have said the quick
opening of stores is critical. That's because the state now exists in a
legal gray zone: Marijuana is legal to possess but illegal to sell.

How hard is it to get pot now that it's legal?

On this first day of legal marijuana in Massachusetts, a Globe reporter
attempted to buy some weed. Here's how his day unfolded.

"We are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter
Question 4 in an informal session with very little notice regarding
proposed changes," said Jim Borghesani, a leader in the marijuana
legalization campaign.

He added that the group was "willing to consider technical changes to
Question 4 so that the new law 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
[l]egislative revisions are necessary."

Just two senators were present Wednesday morning, the chamber's top two
lawmakers, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and Republican Minority
Leader Bruce Tarr, and passage of the substitute amendment took less than
a minute.

"The substitute amendment has to do with a six-month delay in certain
provisions of the bill," Rosenberg explained to a nearly empty Senate
chamber, adding that the already-passed Dec. 15 deadline would not be

Less than an hour later in the House, with about five members on hand,
passage was even faster, taking seconds. One House member who was in
attendance said later that he did not think the measure had been approved.

Formal sessions for the two-year legislative cycle have already ended, and
during informal sessions the objection of a single member can derail a
legislative measure. But none voiced one Wednesday.

Informal sessions permit no roll-call votes, meaning that none of the
lawmakers present Wednesday are on the record with their abstentions or

State legislators have overriden the express desire of voters before. In
2002, two years after voters chose to roll back the state income tax to
pre-1989 levels, the Democrat-controlled Legislature voted to freeze the
rate, arguing the state needed the revenue.

Later that year, Mitt Romney won the governorship, a victory many
attributed in part to voter anger with the tax vote and clear reversal of
voter sentiment.

This year is different, legislative leaders insisted in a joint press
release after the vote.

"The Legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters
while also protecting public health and public safety," Rosenberg said.
"This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to
work with stakeholders on improving the new law."

"Our goal has always been to make sure that the intent of the voters is
carried out," DeLeo said. "The delay will allow the committee process to
work through the law's complicated implications and provide a process by
which we can strengthen, refine and improve it."

Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who is now the state's top marijuana
regulator, has been among the loudest voices urging a delay. She has said
that to create an effective new bureaucracy that can regulate and police
recreational marijuana sales requires more time than the ballot question
gave her.

But opponents have cried foul, arguing that Colorado set up its new
recreational marijuana system in the same timeframe. And adjusting the
voter-approved law flies in the face of democracy, they say.

DeLeo and Governor Charlie Baker had both previously expressed openness to
a delay to protect public health and safety.

Rosenberg said earlier this month that State House leaders had discussed
delaying parts of the marijuana legislation to "give us more time to

Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who supported legalization, told reporters
at the time that 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.
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