December 7, 2016

Legislative delays, medical safeguards high on legal marijuana to-do list

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Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

BOSTON — House and Senate leaders will make a decision in the coming weeks whether to push for a delay this month in key pieces of the marijuana legalization law without waiting for the next Legislature to come into session in January.

“We’ve had discussions about delaying some of the dates to give us more time to fine tune the bill, and in the next few weeks we have to make final decisions on that,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told reporter Monday, Dec. 5, after meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker.

Editorial: Why we were a ‘No’ on Question 4

The next Legislature will be seated Jan. 4. During informal sessions before then, any lawmaker can block a bill.

And now that voters have approved general adult use of marijuana, the Massachusetts Medical Society has shifted its focus from opposing legal pot to pressing for public health safeguards in the regulation of marijuana.

Rosenberg said there’s a “strong feeling” lawmakers should consider delaying the later deadlines outlined in the ballot law approved by voters on Nov. 8, but he also did not rule out pushing back the Dec. 15 legalization of marijuana use, possession and the home-growing of pot plants.

Watch: Baker, DeLeo and Rosenberg on legal pot delays, more

“If it’s going to be a delay, it’s going to be a very time-limited delay,” Rosenberg said.

DeLeo said he agreed with Rosenberg’s assessment of the Legislature’s approach to implementing the marijuana legalization ballot question, whose passage must still be certified by the Governor’s Council.

“Whether we would delay the Dec. 15, I think that would probably be a little more difficult, shall we say, to delay. Anything thereafter, I think, would be much easier to delay,” DeLeo said.

The law calls for the establishment of a Cannabis Control Commission by March to oversee licensing and regulation of marijuana products and dispensaries, and lays out timetables for retail sales license applications to be accepted later in 2017 and into 2018.

DeLeo also said after speaking with Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Revenue Committee Co-chair Rep. Jay Kaufman he does not think using state reserves to pay for marijuana oversight startup costs would be prudent.


Medical society urges health safeguards among legal pot regulations

At a meeting of its policy-making body last weekend, Massachusetts Medical Society set its slate of priorities for the coming year, including a call to work with lawmakers and regulators to limit the harm from recreational marijuana.

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“Our opposition was based on the public health and safety implications that the passage of this law would create, specifically the threat to our young citizens,” society President Dr. James Gessner told the 25,000-physician organization’s House of Delegates, according to remarks provided by the group.

“MMS will continue its advocacy to ensure that public health oversight is provided, that the need for education, prevention, and treatment still exists, and that steps will be taken to ensure the safety of children.”

The policy adopted last weekend calls for the panel to “actively engage with state policymakers to advocate for legislative and regulatory policies on legal marijuana that will protect public health,” including preventing youth access to the plant, stopping impaired driving, and calling for safety and quality standards for marijuana.

MMS’s House of Delegates last weekend also authorized a survey of MMS members to “determine the attitudes of physicians and physicians-in-training in Massachusetts towards aid-in-dying.” The survey is to be done in the first half of 2017.

Next year could see an uptick in activity around aid in dying. Compassion & Choices, a national end-of-life rights organization, has filed suit asking the state courts to affirm the right to medical aid in dying — sometimes known as “death with dignity” or “doctor-assisted suicide” — and Rep. Louis Kafka of Stoughton is preparing to re-file an aid-in-dying bill at the start of the next legislative session in January.

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