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The process for licensing retail marijuana shops would be delayed by six months under legislation that surfaced first on Wednesday in the Senate before clearing both branches, the result of which could push the legal sale of marijuana, authorized by a successful ballot campaign this year, well into 2018.
The House and Senate on Wednesday morning during lightly attended informal sessions passed a bill (S 2524) amended by Sen. Jason Lewis pushing out the effective dates of several key milestones in the new law, including the dates by which the state will begin accepting applications and issuing licenses for retail pot shop licenses. The state, under the bill, would have until July 2018 to issue the first licenses for retail pot sales.
The move highlights a rare willingness among lawmakers to tinker with a law approved directly by voters.
The bill also directs the Baker administration to contract for a study of marijuana use, including patterns of use and methods of consumption, incidents of impaired driving and marijuana-related hospitalizations and the economic impacts on the state.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who presided over Wednesday's session, said the bill would not impact any provisions of the new law that went into effect on Dec. 15, including the legalization of possession, use, gifting and home-growing of marijuana. House and Senate officials said the delay would give the Legislature more time to "improve the ballot question, take up issues not addressed by the ballot question and allow the state more time to implement the will of the voters."
"The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," Rosenberg said in a statement. "Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country."
The bill must still be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker before becoming law. The legislation would give the forthcoming Cannabis Control Commission an extra six months until March 15, 2018 to develop initial regulations, and applications for testing facility licenses and for retail sales from established medical marijuana dispensaries would be delayed until April 1, 2018.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg would also have until September, instead of March, to set up the new Cannabis Control Commission.
"Our goal has always been to make sure that the intent of the voters is carried out," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a statement. "The delay will allow the committee process to work through the law's complicated implications and provide a process by which we can strengthen, refine and improve it."
Will Luzier, who was part of the coalition that passed the marijuana ballot law, said he was "disappointed" that lawmakers are pushing back retail sales of marijuana.
"If they need that much time to tweak the process, we're disappointed that they have to take that much time but we understand that that's the way it is," Luzier told the News Service.
Luzier said he believes the delay will likely be a hardship for those in the burgeoning marijuana industry.
"Sitting on an investment for that much longer is probably a problem," Luzier said.
Luzier was also disappointed with the process of passing the change through the Legislature, saying he only saw the new language Wednesday morning.
"We only had about two hours to review it. We only got it at nine o'clock this morning," Luzier said. He said, "We're disappointed that it went through in an informal session and we would have liked to have had more to review it, but the process is the process."
Asked if he was attempting to convince a pro-marijuana lawmaker to object to the bill before it is enacted, Luzier said he has been in contact with "our allies" and said, "We haven't gotten a commitment from anyone yet."
Rosenberg and DeLeo said that in the coming weeks they will also set up a Committee on Marijuana comprised of Democrats and Republicans from both branches to work with stakeholders and draft additional legislation to address concerns with the new law.
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