Massachusetts delays retail sales of marijuana by six months

FILE PHOTO - A variety of medicinal marijuana buds in jars are pictured at Los Angeles Patients & Caregivers Group dispensary in West Hollywood, California U.S., October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday pushed through a surprise six-month delay in the retail sale of marijuana for recreational use, saying they needed more time to tinker with a legalization measure that voters approved last month.

Meeting during a holiday-shortened week, the state's House and Senate voted to push back the licensing of cannabis shops from Jan. 1, 2018, until July 1 that year, according to a copy of the legislation posted online.

The delay frustrated those who championed a Nov. 8 ballot measure, easily approved by voters, to allow use of the drug by adults 21 and older in private places.

Personal possession, use and cultivation became legal on Dec. 15, making Massachusetts one of eight U.S. states to take that step since voters in Washington and Colorado first approved the idea in 2012. Wednesday's legislation does not change that.

Hanging over all the states is what action President-elect Donald Trump will take after he is sworn in on Jan. 20. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and legalization by the states has occurred only because of the blessing of the outgoing Obama administration.

Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg, a Democrat, cited public health and safety as reasons for the delay in retail sales.

"This short delay will allow the necessary time for the legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," he 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," he said.

The legislation pushes back all deadlines related to retail sales, taxes and regulation. A "cannabis control commission" that was to be appointed by March 1 is given a Sept. 1 deadline to take shape.

Legalization advocates learned of the legislation only on Tuesday night, said Jim Borghesani, who ran the campaign to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts.

"We're very disappointed with what they did and with the way they did it," he said. "We're disappointed that they extended this awkward period we're in now where possession is legal but sales are not."

Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican who is expected to sign the delay bill into law, will work with public health officials and others to put legalization into place, spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said.

California, Maine and Nevada also approved legalizing recreational use on Nov. 8, while voters in Arizona rejected it.

Lawmakers push back marijuana sales

It took less than an hour, and only about a half-dozen state legislators, to approve a bill that would overturn significant parts of a marijuana legalization law that 1.8 million voters approved just last month.

With no public hearings and no formal public notice, the few lawmakers on Beacon Hill passed a measure on Wednesday to delay the likely opening date for recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts by half a year — from January to July 2018.

The measure that emerged from the unusual legislative action was sent for approval to Governor Charlie Baker, who has vociferously opposed legalization. Late in the day, he called a six-month delay “perfectly appropriate.”

But Steven S. Epstein, a Georgetown lawyer and longtime legalization activist, had a different view. “They’re delusional,” he said of legislators, “because 54 percent of the people voted for it.”

Massachusetts delays opening of recreational marijuana stores until July

While it’s now legal to possess or home-grow marijuana in Massachusetts — thanks to a ballot initiative passed by voters this year — residents are going to have to wait longer to legally purchase the drug.

Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation that will delay by six months the opening date for recreational marijuana stores to July 2018.

The surprise legislation emerged Wednesday morning and was adopted by both the House and Senate in under an hour during informal sessions, according to the Boston Globe.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who presided over Wednesday’s session, has said in the past that more time was needed to fine-tune marijuana sales regulations before the opening of stores in January 2018, the start date originally laid out in the ballot initiative.

“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,” Mr. Rosenberg said in a statement Wednesday. “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 legislation, if signed by the governor, will not affect portions of the initiative that already took effect. On Dec. 15, it became legal in Massachusetts for a person over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public or up to 10 ounces of marijuana in the home. Residents are also able to grow up to six plants in their home.

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