DENVER There is a distinct possibility that legalized recreational marijuana could soon arise as a new industry in Massachusetts. And with an expected ballot question on the horizon, some state lawmakers are taking new measures to help the body prepare for such a change.
While it’s highly unlikely legislators would approve of recreational pot use on their own, voters are likely to get a chance to weigh in this year when a referendum on the matter is expected to land on the November ballot.
Just like when Massachusetts voters OK’d marijuana use for medicinal purposes in 2012, officials would be required to draft and implement a myriad of laws and regulations before marijuana-based products could be sold and consumed legally in the Bay State.
To get a handle on how to regulate this growing business, members of the Senate Special Committee on Marijuana are here in Denver this week to learn from states that have already legalized recreational marijuana.
“If Massachusetts were to legalize marijuana for recreational use — and we are anticipating this will be on the ballot in November of this year — it would be a major social change, and there are ramifications for public health, public safety and for economic areas,” said Winchester state Sen. Jason Lewis, a Democrat who chairs the committee and is heading up the eight-member delegation.
“Colorado already has wrestled with a lot of these issues over the past several years, and that’s really the best opportunity for us to learn and to anticipate what may be happening in Massachusetts,” he added.
Voters in Colorado approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, and the state scrambled to get a regulatory system in place before the first dispensary opened up on Jan. 1, 2014.
The Massachusetts senators will meet with Colorado officials, including Andrew Freedman, who serves as the state’s first director of marijuana coordination, and Larry Wolk, the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The senators will also hear from officials from the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which has also legalized recreational marijuana use.
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On Tuesday, the senators will spend a full day in the field to see how marijuana is tracked from seed to sale, including growing and warehouse facilities, as well as a marijuana dispensary.
Lewis hopes the committee could help Massachusetts avoid problems encountered when medical marijuana use was approved in 2012.
“One of the big lessons we’ve learned is that when medical marijuana was passed through a ballot question in 2012, in many ways the state was unprepared to actually implement the ballot question, and we saw the consequences of that in terms of the rollout took a long time, there were lawsuits, and the process for setting up dispensaries and licensing them had to be revised,” Lewis said.
He said the Legislature hopes this trip will serve as a proactive measure that will help ensure the state is ready should citizens vote to legalize recreational pot in November.