Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 206]: Pot restrictions high on City Council wish list

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia now have laws on the books legalizing marijuana to some extent.

And with California’s massive medical marijuana infrastructure expected to buoy a potential $7 billion recreational marketplace, experts see no end in sight to the pot shop proliferation.

In Worcester, up to 15 licenses could be awarded once state regulators open the floodgates next July. And city councilors want their say on where these retail outlets will put down roots.Hitch is hungry for answers.

Hitch is hungry for answers.

On Beacon Hill: All eyes on Washington

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

BOSTON — Bump stocks, Bump’s rising stock and the gamble of a little-known state representative from Lawrence looking to bump up the political ladder.

When everything else seems to be in limbo, sometimes there’s no easier reprieve for lawmakers from the malaise on Beacon Hill than to open up the newspaper and find something worth a reaction.

The slow burn of criminal justice and healthcare reform bills may have something to do with the decision state Rep. Juana Matias, a first-term legislator from Lawrence, made this week to set her sights on something bigger – Congress.

Go where the action is.

Matias has barely had time to settle into the rhythms of the Legislature, but even in her short political career she has been an embodiment of the newish political culture in Massachusetts that spits on the wait-your-turn philosophy of previous generations.

Like U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, who knocked off an incumbent in his own party on his way to being a talked-about 2020 White House contender, Matias took on and beat Democrat Marcos Devers in 2016 and now plans to run for U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas’s seat next year. Tsongas, of course, plans to retire, so there’s no one there to dethrone. Just a wide-open field with no clear heir to the seat.

Matias came to the United States with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was five, and now sells herself as “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.” But she has competition for that title.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Rep. Juana Matias of Lawrence, left. and Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, testify at the start of the June 9 Public Safety Committee hearing.

Andover’s Dan Koh, one of at least six Democrats now running in the Third District, turned heads last week when he announced a staggering $805,000 fundraising haul in the month since since he announced his campaign. But if the desired effect was to scare off further challengers, it didn’t work.

Sen. Barbara L’Italien is another legislator looking to punch her ticket out of Boston to Washington, D.C., showing how even the prospects of entering the minority in Congress can have a brighter shine than being in the supermajority at the state level.

The goal is the same, but the dynamic different for state Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is trying to escape the Republican minority in the Massachusetts House to join the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

With just one month left until the Legislature recesses for the year, the Democrats’ agenda has been slow to take form, and business groups moved to undercut one leg of their stool by filing a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s certification of a ballot question to impose a surtax on millionaires.

The Raise Up Coalition believes its constitutional amendment remains on solid footing, but the business group’s case is probably more than just a wish and prayer. If successful, it would seriously dampen the excitement of lawmakers looking ahead to 2019 and all the money they think they’ll have to spend.

The one thing the branches have been able agree on is that the budget they produced in July was fine as it was, before Gov. Charlie Baker got his hands on it.

House leaders flexed their muscles in a way not seen for at least several years, completing their work to reverse all $320 million worth of spending vetoes made by Baker in July as the Republican governor warned about the risk of a third straight cycle of mid-year budget cuts.

House Democrats, however, didn’t want to be told about the need to exercise caution, and their confidence in their own budgeting ability, whether it will prove to be misguided or right on the money this year, got a shot in the arm by a September state revenue report showing that, for the time being, Massachusetts has a $124 million cushion.

The Senate has been taking up budget overrides at a slower pace – just $40 million so far – but there’s little indication to suggest its members will be more conservative about spending than their counterparts in the House.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • DeLeo, state leaders expect to ‘move quickly’ on bump-stock ban
  • Markey on birth control, Baker on PR, Warren on Equifax
  • Pot power drain on minds of Bay State utility officials
  • Watch: Healey on Las Vegas shooting
  • State bestows highest honor on fallen Officer Tarentino

Flanagan, ex-senator, opens up about her role regulating legal pot in Mass.

Don’t be too hard on the towns that aren’t ready to ride the Massachusetts recreational marijuana train, said new Cannabis Control Commission member Jennifer Flanagan.

“For them, it’s not coming down to money. That’s what I think is interesting,” said Flanagan, the former Democratic state senator from Leominster, in an interview last week with the Sun.

“I understand there are taxes to be had from this and there is money to be gained, but some towns are not comfortable having it on Main Street,” she said in reference to pot shops. “We need to allow them to get there and not force their hand with it.”

Gov. Charlie Baker made Flanagan the first of five appointees to the commission, which will oversee implementation of the new state law legalizing the use, sale and growth of marijuana, based on her background as the Senate chairperson of both the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee and the Special Senate Committee on Opiate Addiction.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 198]: State cannabis commission needs more green?

At long last, state leaders in absolutely no hurry to abide by the will of the voters when it comes to legal recreational marijuana have assembled a quintet of commissioners to craft the regulatory framework that will guide the burgeoning industry into existence next July … maybe.

Turns out, the $2.5 million set aside for this endeavor could be cause for concern (less so, you’d think, if there was more pot available!). Hitch thinks lawmakers should stop blowing smoke.

Funding questions rise to top as state marijuana panel convenes

BOSTON — With the Cannabis Control Commission’s work of standing up a legal marijuana market in Massachusetts now underway, the group that backed legalization on the ballot said the commission has to start pressuring the governor and Legislature for more money.

The commission held its first business meeting Tuesday, after which Yes on 4 coalition spokesman Jim Borghesani said the group’s first order of business should be making sure they have the financial resources they need to implement the marijuana law on time.

“They have to start the pressure right away on the Legislature and the governor to make sure they get the funding that they need,” Borghesani, who also represents the Marijuana Policy Project, said.

On Beacon Hill: Mr. Baker goes to Washington

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

BOSTON — With his purple tie knotted tightly, Gov. Charlie Baker flew to Washington, D.C., last week hoping to bring his brand of bipartisanship to the polarized capital. Few might have predicted, however, that the colors in Washington were already starting to bleed.

Ostensibly, the state Legislature and Congress both returned to work from a summer recess, but it was the gridlocked Congress — with an assist from President Donald Trump — that would make the breakthrough.

As state legislators eased into their post-Labor Day schedule (and that’s being generous), Trump struck a debt-ceiling deal with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to fund the government for three months and deliver billions in relief funding for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Trump’s shunning of Republican Congressional leaders to make a deal with the Democrats rattled Washington and seemed to put wind in the sails of the White House as it prepared to deal with Irma, another catastrophic hurricane poised to strike South Florida on Sunday.

The debt ceiling deal also distracted, if only for a fleeting moment, from the storm the president stirred up with his decision to phase out the immigration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The program, created by former President Barack Obama through executive order, allowed the so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the country illegally by their parents when they were minors, to apply for protected status that would allow them to go to school and work without fear of deportation.

Trump, through his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, challenged Congress over the next six months to enshrine DACA into law if its members want it preserved, while Democrats and many Republicans, including Gov. Baker, derided the move as a cold-hearted play for the conservative base that would send immigrants in the United States, through no fault of their own, back into hiding.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey joined yet another multi-state lawsuit against the Trump administration to block the decision to end DACA, while advocacy groups rallied at the State House and around Boston seeking leadership from the state to protect the futures of the Dreamers.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

It was in this atmosphere that Baker joined his fellow governors from Tennessee, Montana, Colorado and Utah in testifying before the Senate Health Committee [see video below] on steps Congress could take to stabilize Obamacare health insurance markets in the wake of failed efforts to repeal the law.

Baker and the bipartisan cohort of governors told the Senate panel, headed by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, that the single biggest thing they could do would be to ensure at least two years of funding for cost-sharing-reduction payments.

The CSR payments, used to keep patients’ out-of-pocket expenses down, were a part of the Affordable Care Act, but have been challenged in court by Republicans and dangled by Trump as a lever he could pull to force the collapse of Obamacare.

“I think it would be a bad idea,” Baker told U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren about Trump’s threat, responding to a softball lobbed across the plate by Massachusetts’ senior senator in what sounded like a coordinated back-and-forth designed to bloody the president.

Baker sat in the middle of the five governors as the de facto leader of the pack. He was given ample time to wonk out on healthcare policy, and just enough time to score some political points back home.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Hoffman, pot czar, on July 2018 deadline
  • McGovern and Chandler on DACA, Markey on North Korea
  • Worcester’s Grabauskas returns to MBTA
  • Watch: Baker a key part of healthcare reform testimony
  • Still-lagging tax revenues leave budget veto overrides in limbo

Anti-marijuana towns to retail facilities, consumers: Your money is no good here

As Massachusetts communities consider whether to allow recreational marijuana dispensaries inside their borders, one thing is clear – those that say “no” could be leaving significant money on the table.

For supporters of the Question 4 ballot initiative that voters solidly supported in 2016, local prohibitions seem to make no sense. They also run counter to the will of that majority of voters, which favored recreational marijuana by nearly 54 percent.

In some communities, local government bodies have passed moratoriums on non-medical dispensaries or outright bans. In June, Southbridge voters said no to marijuana production, cultivation, manufacturing and retail. That was during a 19 percent turnout for a local election. In the 2016 state election, with a much higher turnout, 56 percent of Southbridge voters voted yes on Question 4.

It is that very contradiction that puzzles supporters of the law, who note that marijuana users who live in every Massachusetts community will effectively be contributing to the economies of the nearest towns that approve dispensaries.

That was a point that Worcester officials had in mind when they approved four medical marijuana sites. The sites could all transform into recreational marijuana facilities down the road, according to Jacob Sanders, coordinator of the city’s intergovernmental affairs and municipal initiatives.