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.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 189]: On pot, Mass. lawmakers show green thumb

Maybe it was an earnest and honest diligence that kept state lawmakers from finishing their rewrite of the voter-approved legal marijuana bill that wallowed behind closed doors for months.

Or maybe they just figured most of the interested parties were busy restringing their ukuleles and crushing it on the ultimate Frisbee course.

Either way, what the joint committee came up with finally earned the governor’s signature. But, Hitch wonders, does it leave any room to grow?

Charlie Baker

Worcester Sun, Aug. 16: Officials plan for Saturday ‘free speech’ rally, when will see say, ‘enough’? + Hitch, most popular & more

In wake of Virginia violence, officials leery of Saturday “free speech” rally [with video] | With an event billed as a “free speech” rally planned for Boston Common on Saturday, state and Boston officials discussed safety and logistical concerns. Meanwhile, the group organizing the rally, Boston Free Speech, wrote, “While we maintain that every individual is entitled to their freedom of speech and defend that basic human right, we will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence.”

Editorial: When will we say, ‘Enough!’ ? | Displays of brash, extreme hate and violence are the opposite of the America the vast majority of us believe in. But instances have been on the uptick.

On Beacon Hill: No detour for sales tax on Holiday Road

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

BOSTON — Hotel, motel, Chatham Bars Inn?

Turns out deciding where to holiday can be more complicated this time of year than choosing between the Cape, the Berkshires or Nantucket. It also means figuring out whether to go to Best Buy in Everett or Nashua, N.H.

Lawmakers slunk away from Beacon Hill without acting on bills that would have established a sales-tax-free weekend sometime this August.

No one said a word, but one might have guessed at that point that the decision had been made to forgo a sales tax holiday this summer for just the third time in the past 14 years. After a year of wringing their hands over disappointing tax collections, leaders are loath to give up a revenue source, even if it might mean cheaper school supplies for constituents and a boon for some small businesses.

Gov. Charlie Baker, however, didn’t seem to want to play that guessing game. And despite vetoing $320 million from the fiscal 2018 budget, he apparently feels a few million dollars lost in August can be overcome.

The governor filed a bill last Wednesday to make the weekend of Aug. 19-20 a sales tax holiday. Sure, he could have just issued a statement calling on the Legislature to return from its recess and pass one of the several tax holiday bills already filed this session, But he didn’t. He filed his own, and it was just about dead on arrival.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Baker’s decision to file legislation, especially in the first week of August, made “little sense,” and Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and Revenue Committee chairman who views these tax holidays as little more than gimmicks, said what DeLeo seemed unwilling to.

Baker’s bill would not get through committee.

So why did Baker file it?

Well perhaps it was just coincidence, but it also came the same day Baker decided that he would sign off on $200 million in new fees and fines on employers to help pay for MassHealth without the reforms that he, and groups like the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, had been insisting on as part of a package.

Rather than force House and Senate Democrats to override a veto and deal with the story line all summer that he and the Legislature were at odds, the governor chose to do something he’s hoping won’t become famous last words.

“The Legislature told us they would work with us on this, and we’re going to take them at their word,” he said.

The National Federation of Independent Business said it was “incredibly disappointed” in Baker, but other business groups, including Associated Industries of Massachusetts, struck a more diplomatic tone.

“While this is certainly not the outcome we hoped for, we recognize that the governor’s decision is carefully considered and designed to achieve the ultimate, long-term goal of substantive MassHealth reform,” AIM President Rick Lord said.

Even with the olive branch from Baker, the retailers seem to have just about reached a breaking point. With the deadline arriving to file language to reserve a spot on the 2018 ballot, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts filed four possible ballot questions for next fall.

The group, frustrated by an inability to get what it wants through the legislative process, proposed lowering the sales tax from 6.25 percent to either 5 percent or 4.5 percent, and reserved their right to couple either proposal with an annual two-day sales tax holiday.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legislators return, but not for legislating
  • Fiscal 2018 tax collections hit first-month benchmark
  • McGovern on ‘a better deal,’ Warren on improving GI Bill, Markey on Trump
  • Moore-sponsored disability protection bill gets public hearing
  • Baker makes choices for marijuana advisory panel