January 4, 2017

Editorial: On legal marijuana, take the time to get it right

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Flickr/Martin Alonso

Adult use of marijuana is legal ... but much of the law voters passed in November has been on hold while legislators make their mark.

Gov. Charlie Baker signed An Act Further Regulating the Cultivation of Marijuana and Marihuana last Friday. The law delays the opening of retail marijuana operations by six months.

Retail operations related to adult recreational use under the law, which passed with 54 percent of the vote in November, were scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2018. That date is now July 1, 2018.

The delay has its critics.

“This is disappointing to the say the least,” said Jeffrey Zucker, president of the cannabis industry advisory firm Green Lion Partners. “The … bill was carefully constructed so that the system could be implemented swiftly. This is an affront to the 54 percent of voters that supported this initiative.”

Isaac Dietrich, CEO of the cannabis social network and technology platform MassRoots, said: “It’s a shame a small group of legislators are working to undermine the will of millions of voters in Massachusetts. We’ll be mobilizing our community of hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers to get this decision reversed early next year.”

“Far from respecting the will of the voters, they don’t even respect the legislative process, the democracy, the laws in Massachusetts, or anything else, and for what?” said Andy Gaus, the press secretary for the cannabis law reform coalition MassCann/NORML.

Crafting a ballot initiative and receiving the backing of 54 percent of those who voted in November are not small achievements. In that light, it seems odd that proponents of legalized marijuana don’t appear to grasp that winning at the ballot box and winning with the state Legislature are different things.

In other words, to those who thought the Legislature would not weigh in and tweak the law, we ask, “What are you smoking?”

Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton defended the governor’s action, writing in a statement, “The Baker-Polito Administration has been clear that it shares the Legislature’s desire to thoroughly prepare for launching an entirely new industry distributing a controlled substance and is committed to adhering to the will of the voters by implementing the new law as effectively and responsibly as possible.”

As we wrote in November, “There are procedural reasons, too, to clamp down on this ballot referendum. The proposed law was not crafted on Beacon Hill, and it shows, because it is an even deeper tangle of complexity than if it had been. If Question 4 passes, the Legislature will have a mess on its hands just to implement the law.”

Andy Metzger / State House News Service

Keith Saunders holds a jar of what he said was nearly an ounce of newly legalized marijuana outside the State House Dec. 15.

We endorse the six-month delay signed into law by Baker. Further, we endorse the consideration of changes to the law if those changes fix deficiencies in a bill designed by and inuring to the benefit of the cannabis industry.

It is important to note that some provisions of the law have already taken effect: allowing possession of certain amounts, use in private, home-growing and gifting of marijuana by adults 21 and older. However, considering the issue of retail sales, taxation and regulation, we believe a delay is preferable to potentially bad policy becoming reality.

To those who believe Friday’s bill-signing is the Legislature’s way of delaying implementation or obstructing the will of the people we offer this.

The last of the 18 sections of what is now Chapter 351 calls for a comprehensive scientific study of, among other things, patterns and methods of marijuana consumption and the “incidents of impaired driving and hospitalization related to marijuana use.”

We believe such a study is prudent. Moreover, we take note that allowing for a meaningful study was not contained in the original ballot question.

There are times when the Legislature ignores the will of the people. We do not believe this is the case here.

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