House, Senate Lawmakers Form Panel For Pot Bill Negotiations

The particulars of the Legislature's marijuana overhaul are now in the hands of six lawmakers tasked with reconciling the House and Senate bills by the end of the month.

In rare Friday sessions, the House and Senate appointed House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, Braintree Rep. Mark Cusack, Shrewsbury Rep. Hannah Kane, Somerville Sen. Patricia Jehlen, Belmont Sen. William Brownsberger and Plymouth Sen. Vinny deMacedo to a conference committee to work out differences between the two bills (H 3776/S 2097). Conference committees generally meet in secret, negotiating a consensus bill that is then placed before the two branches for delivery to the governor's desk.

Cusack and Jehlen are co-chairs of the Committee on Marijuana Policy.

The House and Senate diverged on taxation, with House lawmakers hiking taxes on regulated pot sales to 28 percent while the Senate stuck with the 10-to-12 percent tax approved by voters in November.

On other matters, such as governance of the yet-to-be assembled Cannabis Control Commission and support for small-scale growers the two branches were in closer alignment. The House bill would make it easier for local governments to ban the industry from town, and the Senate added a provision for people to clear their criminal records of offenses that are now no longer a crime.

The House voted 126-28 on Wednesday to rewrite the ballot law, and the Senate voted 30-5 to amend the law.

Without many other bills to show for themselves, lawmakers have made rewriting last year's ballot law an early-session priority, planning to have a bill ready for Gov. Charlie Baker's review by the end of June with hopes that retail marijuana establishments can start opening by next July. Voters, who decriminalized marijuana in 2008 and legalized its use for medical purposes in 2012, passed a law legalizing possession, cultivation and regulated sale of the drug to adults 21 and older by about 54 percent to 46 percent.

Baker on Monday said he had "no doubt" lawmakers would send him a bill by the end of the month.



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