Pubdate: Sun, 23 Jul 2017
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2017 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Joshua Miller


The Democrat-controlled Massachusetts Legislature sent an overhaul of
the voter-passed marijuana legalization law to Governor Charlie
Baker's desk Thursday - but not before a top Republican lit into the

The Senate enacted the measure on a 32-6 vote. On Wednesday, the House
voted 136-11 to move the bill forward.

Baker is expected to sign the measure, which would raise cannabis
taxes from what the ballot question envisioned, merge oversight of
recreational and medical marijuana, and change how cities and towns
can ban pot shops.

"Governor Baker appreciates the Legislature's work on this bill and
will carefully review it in the coming days," spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton

Yet before the vote that sent the legislation to the GOP governor, the
Senate's top Republican, Senator Bruce E. Tarr, issued a sharp warning
to legislators: One key provision might prompt lawsuits that could
lead to "the incapacitation of this statute" and would set a "very
dangerous precedent."

The bill would change how cities and towns can ban or severely
restrict local recreational marijuana facilities, such as pot shops,
farms, and infused product manufacturers (think: cannabis soda).

The ballot question gave that right to voters in each municipality, a
right the Senate bill left in place. The House-passed version of the
overhaul would have given that power to local elected officials instead.

The legislative compromise splits the difference: Cities and towns
that voted in favor of legalization last November would still require
a voter referendum to ban or severely limit marijuana shops. But in
cities and towns that voted against the measure, local elected
officials would make those decisions.

Tarr acknowledged the accord was a "convenient compromise in the
crucible" of House and Senate negotiators trying to come to an agreement.

But, the Gloucester Republican said, it sets an awful precedent. If
the bill becomes law, residents in the cities and towns that voted
against Question 4 in November will have, unknowingly, taken away
their subsequent right to ban shops in their hometown by ballot.

"A group of people in Massachusetts will have their right to vote
extinguished by virtue of the way they voted on a ballot question," he
said with incredulity from the floor of the Senate.

And, Tarr added, "It clearly makes this bill subject to a colorable
constitutional challenge" - meaning a lawsuit could make a plausible
case against the language. That challenge might not arise in the
immediate future, the senator said, but down the road when someone is
aggrieved by the decision of a particular city or town.

Outside lawyers have questioned whether the provision violates
guarantees of equal protection under the law.

But Senator William N. Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, called such
concerns "nonsense."

Speaking to his colleagues, he said the constitutional guarantees of
equal protection are designed to protect specific classes of people -
race, sex, religion, etc.

"This is not a discrimination based on any one of those protected
classes and, therefore, it is not subject to strict scrutiny by the
courts. It is only subject to a general test that there must be a
rational basis for the discrimination," he said.

"Our basis for discriminating is based on their prior expressed
preferences," he said of voters in the 91 cities and towns that voted
against the marijuana legalization measure in November. "We're not
sending them back to do it again."

Besides changing local control, the bill would also raise the total
tax on retail pot purchases to a maximum of 20 percent, up from a
maximum of 12 percent that was spelled out in the ballot law. And it
would merge oversight of the recreational and medical marijuana
industries into a five-person Cannabis Control Commission appointed by
the governor, attorney general, and treasurer.

Several senators lauded the legislation. Senator Jason M. Lewis, a
Winchester Democrat seen as the legislator most knowledgable about the
marijuana industry, called the bill a "remarkable achievement."

Lewis praised several provisions in the bill that would restrict
cannabis advertising and packaging with the aim of protecting
consumers and making sure pot products are aimed just at adults.

But others remained unconvinced on the broader package.

Senator Donald F. Humason Jr., a Westfield Republican who opposed the
legalization ballot question, said he expected residents of
Massachusetts to come to regret their decision, as a billion-dollar
cannabis industry proliferates across the state.

When people look back on Thursday's vote five, 10, 20 years down the
line, Humason said, he believes he will have been on the right side of
history voting "no."
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