Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jun 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Joshua Miller


The fate of marijuana legalization, enshrined in law by about 1.8
million Massachusetts voters, is now in the hands of a half-dozen
lawmakers meeting in secret.

Those legislators' first action on Monday was to kick out members of
the news media, close the door, and begin their deliberations to
reconcile fundamentally different Senate and House rewrites of the
ballot question that legalized adult recreational marijuana's use and

"We're going to ask the press to leave," said Senator Patricia D.
Jehlen, the Senate's point person on pot policy.

"Don't take it personally," House majority leader Ronald Mariano told
TV, newspaper, wire service, and radio reporters after the conference
committee of three representatives and three senators had voted to
close the meeting.

Hashing out differences between House and Senate bills in secret has
long been the norm at the State House. But keeping deliberations about
how to rewrite a voter-passed law hidden is notable, even by Beacon
Hill's opaque standards.

Both the Senate and House are expected to rubber-stamp the final
agreement - if there is one - and send it to the governor's desk.

Growing, buying, possessing, and using limited quantities of marijuana
by adults 21 and older would remain legal under the plans passed by
both the House and Senate last week.

And both bills would end Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg's unilateral
oversight of the cannabis industry, spreading the power to appoint pot
regulators to the governor and attorney general, too.

But the differences are substantial.

The House plan would increase the total tax rate on retail pot sales
from a maximum of 12 percent under the referendum to a mandatory 28
percent. The Senate plan would leave the 12 percent rate in place.

The House bill would give municipal officials, instead of local
voters, the power to ban pot shops and farms in their

The Senate bill would leave that power with local voters, as the
ballot question did.

And the Senate plan provides mechanisms for sealing and expunging
certain marijuana-related criminal records. The House plan has no such

Legislative officials hope to send a compromise bill to Governor
Charlie Baker by Friday, as promised.

Responding to a question from a reporter on Monday, House Speaker
Robert A. DeLeo said that, for the most part, the public will be
"served very well" by legislators ironing out differences on the
ballot law rewrite in secret.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg did not directly answer the

"There's robust debate in the committee when they're hearing the bill.
And then there's robust debate as the bill moves through the
legislative process," the Amherst Democrat said. "This stage of the
process is usually closed so that the members may dig down deep and
move as quickly as possible. And you'll see the result of it. And
we'll be held accountable based on our votes on the final package."

In December, with no public hearings and no formal public notice, a
few lawmakers passed a measure to delay the likely opening date for
recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts by half a year - from
January to July 2018. They delayed in order to give themselves extra
time to rewrite the voter-passed law.

It is widely expected that a new pot oversight agency will take at
least one year to get off the ground and begin vetting and approving
licenses. That's a timeframe in line with those in other states where
retail recreational marijuana sales have begun. And that's why
lawmakers meeting the June 30 deadline to get a bill to Baker is seen
as so important.

The Senate members of the conference committee are Jehlen, a
Somerville Democrat and longtime legalization supporter who cochairs
the Legislature's marijuana committee; William N. Brownsberger, a
Belmont Democrat, former prosecutor, and former defense attorney who
was one of the few other legislators to support the legalization
ballot question; and Richard J. Ross, a Wrentham Republican who
opposed the pot referendum, but went to Colorado in early 2016 with
other senators to learn more about the issue.

The House members of the conference committee are Mariano, a Quincy
Democrat close to DeLeo (the speaker strongly opposed and publicly
campaigned against the ballot question); Representative Mark J.
Cusack, a Braintree Democrat and cochair of the marijuana committee,
and author of the original House bill; and Representative Hannah Kane,
Republican of Shrewsbury, who campaigned to defeat the legalization

At the meeting, the six didn't say much before the doors were closed.
After reporters shuffled out, legislative staffers worked to quickly
seal off the deliberations.

And having been dismissed to a State House hallway, WBUR reporter
Steve Brown placed his microphone next to the threshold to capture the
loud thud as the door slammed shut.
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MAP posted-by: Matt