In November 2016, Massachusetts was among four states whose residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana, but a new bill signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker on December 31, 2016 will slow things down considerably.
Unlike other states where the people’s voices really do impact marijuana laws, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed the bill that could delay the opening of marijuana shops in the state by up to six months during informal sessions in both legislative chambers on December 29, 2016 without a public hearing or a debate. In fact, only a small number of lawmakers were actually present when the bill passed through the state’s House and Senate.
Before this new bill was passed, Massachusetts residents age 21 and over would be able to use and possess recreational marijuana in limited amounts when the ballot passed during the November election went into effect on December 15, 2016. They would also be able to grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their homes. It’s important to note that the bill signed by the Governor on December 31st doesn’t change those regulations, but it does significantly delay when people will be able to purchase recreational marijuana from retail stores.
It was expected that retail marijuana stores would start selling recreational marijuana within Massachusetts by mid-2018. The new bill pushes that back to early 2018. Specific regulations for recreational marijuana won’t be approved until March 2018.
The bill also requires that the Department of Public Health conducts a detailed study about marijuana usage in the state as well as the effects of the new law permitting recreational marijuana.
The Massachusetts governor and legislators argue that the delay is important to ensure proper rules, local controls over marijuana retailers, edibles potency levels, and taxes could be determined.
Advocates of recreational marijuana argue that the bill and the delays it causes will do more harm than good. While people will be able to use marijuana recreationally, they won’t be able to purchase it legally, which could cause more people to be arrested. Advocates also believe that the delay causes the state to fuel the black market while losing out on tax revenue.
Transparency Trumps Sneaky and Smart
Regardless of whether the Massachusetts legislature’s bill was handled in a sneaky way or not and whether the goal was smart or not, one thing is certain. Transparency in developing and implementing a state’s medical and/or recreational marijuana program is essential.
Cannabiz Media’s Vice President of Government Affairs Ed Keating has spoken about transparency in marijuana licensing before and provided best practices for state disclosures of marijuana license information. In regards to the Massachusetts bill, he says, “This type of poor communication that ignores the will of the people is bad public policy.” In other words, it could set a precedent that ballot initiatives aren’t worth the paper they’re voted on.
What do you think about the Massachusetts delay on recreational marijuana sales? Sneaky or smart? Share your thoughts in the comments below.