June 18, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

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Sam Doran / State House News Service

Students from schools in Taunton, North Attleboro, Walpole, and Franklin observed Flag Day on Wednesday with a visit to the State House where Secretary of State William Galvin led them in the Pledge of Allegiance and presented them miniature American flags.

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service

BOSTON — Give lawmakers a week to get something done and they’ll probably take eight days. At least.

So it should come as no great surprise that they are once again bumping up against a deadline, albeit one that is self-imposed.

Despite the fact lawmakers have been plotting revisions of the November ballot law legalizing marijuana since delaying its implementation last December, the odds of having it rolled and twisted and on the governor’s desk by June 30 seem long.

Some of that has to do with the fact the House and Senate are far apart on major issues, including taxation and local control over retail dispensaries.

The House didn’t help the cause last week with a bungled rollout of a comprehensive marijuana bill that House Speaker Robert DeLeo pulled back from a scheduled vote because of drafting issues and shaky support. Chief among the problems was a taxation miscue that would have applied the proposed 28 percent, all-in tax on marijuana sales to be compounded as the product moved through the supply chain from grower to consumer.

House leaders, including the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee, Rep. Mark Cusack, will try again tomorrow [Monday, June 19] when they release a redrafted bill in hopes of getting that to the floor for a vote on Wednesday.

Cusack says the bill will look very similar to the one released last week, which would create an expanded Cannabis Control Commission and no longer require a town- or city-wide vote to ban the sale of recreational marijuana within a community’s borders, but instead allow the municipal governing body to do it instead.

Yes on 4, the group behind the successful marijuana ballot campaign, believes the higher tax rate will encourage the black market and slammed the House bill as a stripping of rights from voters. The group is considerably more aligned with the Senate.

The reason for the soft deadline this month is that lawmakers feel, after speaking with officials in other states with legal pot, that it will take a year for the new Cannabis Control Commission to become operational and start licensing dispensaries for retail sales.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

The Marijuana Policy Committee co-chaired by Rep. Mark Cusack and Sen. Patricia Jehlen was under fire last week following a heavily panned rollout of new regulations.

No one seems to have much of an appetite to further delay licensing beyond July 2018, and yet getting a bill done by the end of the month would require the House and Senate to both give up considerable ground if they are to meet in the middle for a compromise.

Sen. Patricia Jehlen, the co-chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee whose relationship with Cusack seems anything but groovy, didn’t even wait to see the redrafted House bill before outlining a competing Senate proposal that would leave the ballot law’s tax structure untouched, with a maximum rate of 12 percent.

Jehlen also proposed to make no changes to the local opt-out process and to seal criminal records with past pot convictions that are no longer illegal. She broadly agrees, however, with the House-proposed construction of the Triple C. The proposed structure of the Cannabis Control Commission from both Cusack and Jehlen is similar to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and one that Treasurer Deborah Goldberg — the principal pot overseer under the ballot law — opposes as an undercutting of her authority.

— Matt Murphy

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