Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill that delays the opening of recreational marijuana shops by up to six months.
Massachusetts’ lawmakers approved a bill to delay the recreational marijuana law that 1.8 million voters approved just last November, the Boston Globe reports. Retail sales of recreational marijuana were slated to begin January 2018, but the new bill, signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker, pushes that start date out six months to July.
“The Legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and safety,” Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg said, according to the Boston Globe. “This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law.”
Both the Senate and House unanimously passed the measure nearly immediately, as most lawmakers were out of town for the holidays. Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project criticized the passing of the bill and Rosenberg’s statement.
“The will of the voters was to protect public health and public safety by regulating marijuana,” Tvert said, in a statement. “By delaying the regulation of marijuana, lawmakers are delaying the protection of public health and public safety.”
Among the most vocal supporter of implementing a delay was Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who claimed that she and the state needed more time to establish an effective bureaucracy to regulate recreational marijuana sales. The passing of the new bill gives Goldberg until September 2017 rather than May to appoint a three-person Cannabis Control Commission, which will oversee the industry. The opening of retail shops is subsequently pushed back from January to July 2018.
“Our goal has always been to make sure that the intent of the voters is carried out,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo. “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.”
Jim Borghesani, a leader within the Yes on 4 campaign, responsible for introducing the recreational marijuana measure to voters, issued a statement in response to the lawmakers’ delay in implementing the law:
“We are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter Question 4 in an informal session with little notice regarding proposed changes. We are willing to consider technical changes to Question 4 so that the new law is implemented in a timely and responsible manner. However, our position remains that the measure was written with careful consideration regarding process and timelines and that no major Legislative revisions are necessary. Further, the voters of Massachusetts approved Question 4 by a significant margin, and any alteration of the law deserves a transparent, deliberative legislative process.”
Question 4 was approved by 54 percent of voters. Part of the law, which legalizes the possession and personal cultivation of marijuana, took effect on December 15. Under Question 4, adults 21 and older can legally possess, cultivate, consume, and purchase marijuana. However, as of now those who sell marijuana are breaking the law, so adults are limited to growing their own.
A report by ArcView Market Research and New Frontier published earlier this year projected that Massachusetts’ marijuana industry would be worth $1.1 billion by the year 2020. The report estimated that the state would have brought in $300 million in sales in 2018.
While cannabis advocates fault lawmakers for passing the bill they believe defies the will of the voters and will cost the state millions in revenue, medical marijuana has been legal in Massachusetts since 2012 and residents also continue to have legal access to CBD hemp oil.