Pubdate: Sat, 24 Jun 2017
Source: Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Author: Bob Salsberg, The Associated Press


BOSTON -- After a week of sharp divisions and heated rhetoric over the
future of the state's recreational marijuana law, it's now up to a
conference committee of six legislators to try and sort everything

On one hand, there's a House bill that infuriated pro-marijuana
activists by proposing a major overhaul of the voter-approved law. On
the other, a more restrained Senate bill won praise from the groups
behind the November ballot question.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, the House bill's lead author, suggested
before the votes that the two chambers were in about 80 percent
agreement on their respective approaches.

There is, in fact, more common ground than readily apparent given the
dialogue of the past week.

Neither the House nor Senate changed the current legal possession
limit of up to 1 ounce of pot or home growing provisions that permit
up to a dozen plants per household.

Each place state oversight of recreational and medical marijuana under
the Cannabis Control Commission, which would become larger and
ostensibly more independent than under the ballot initiative that puts
it under control of the state treasurer.

Both bills allow medical marijuana dispensaries to transition into
for-profit companies, but eliminate the head start those companies had
been given over other applicants for recreational licenses. Both set
guidelines for the testing of all marijuana products by independent
labs, and standards for packaging, labeling and marketing.

Both adopt diversity measures designed to level the playing field for
minority and women cannabis entrepreneurs, and address the
historically disproportionate impact the "war on drugs" had on
minority neighborhoods. And with no currently reliable test for
marijuana impairment, both ask a task force to study issues around
driving under the influence.

Similarities aside, barriers to reaching a deal by the Legislature's
self-imposed July 1 deadline are many.


Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the competing bills:
The House repealed the ballot question and wrote an entirely new law;
the Senate keeps the existing law while offering changes.

More than just legislative sausage-making, it's a central question
conference committee members must resolve before doing much else. Do
they start from scratch as the House did or keep on the books -- with
modest revisions -- the law 1.8 million Massachusetts voters approved?
The answer may well dictate the parameters of the final bill.


The sizeable gulf between marijuana tax rates -- 28 percent in the
House, 12 percent in the Senate -- garnered the most public attention
during the past week's debates.

It may also be the easiest issue to resolve should lawmakers simply
agree to split the difference. But the underlying issues are more

Senators insisted on a tax low enough to encourage consumers to buy
from licensed marijuana stores, thereby crushing the underground
market for the drug. House lawmakers sought a tax high enough to pay
for what the bill described as a "rigorous regulatory scheme" for the
cannabis industry. The House also set an ambitious goal of directing
$50 million in marijuana revenues to substance abuse treatment programs.

It's unclear if a compromise tax of about 20 percent satisfies either
or both sets of objectives.


The House grants local governing bodies -- city councils and town
meetings for example -- power to ban or limit pot shops from opening
in their communities. The Senate bill leaves unchanged the current law
that requires a voter referendum to shut the door on marijuana

There is no readily apparent compromise, so barring a creative
solution one side must give on this issue.


Failure by legislators to reach a deal by next Saturday would simply
leave the voter-approved law intact, and allow Treasurer Deb Goldberg
to begin appointing the Cannabis Control Commission. But a possible
scenario in the event of deadlock would be to have conferees separate
out and approve items they have consensus on, while resolving to
address thornier issues further down the road.
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