MA: The State House's Excellent Marijuana Adventure

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Ron Strider

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ZAP! BUZZZZZZZZ! That was the sound of the Massachusetts House and Senate touching what for years has been considered a politically hazardous "third rail" subject: marijuana.

The Legislature this week did what it has refused to do for years — talk in public about the leafy green intoxicant — but only because voters forced Beacon Hill's hand and did the hard part of legalizing cannabis on their own. For lawmakers who thought activists were just blowing smoke all these years, the events of recent days were a reminder that ultimately the voters call the shots.

About a year before voters legalized marijuana themselves, Senate President Stan Rosenberg explained why, to that point, only one senator had agreed to serve on a special committee to study marijuana and why Beacon Hill avoided the sticky-icky ganja.

"Drugs are a third rail issue in politics and you don't want to associate with it publicly because just studying it is enough for people to say, 'Oh, he must be in favor of it because he is studying it,' and people just avoid drug-related stuff," he said.

The sudden zeal to alter the law drew the ire of activists and like birds of a feather, various pro-marijuana factions flocked outside the State House to rail against legislative tweaking Wednesday. Hoping to up the public pressure on lawmakers, a ballot campaign official even deputized those in the hazy crowd as "ambassadors of cannabis" who swore an oath to lobby their elected officials.

By the time the House got to work, on the longest day of the year, reps did what everyone's mother would have yelled at them for: they sat around inside all day. The House gaveled in Wednesday at 11:45 a.m., but the first of the 118 amendments filed to the pot bill wasn't taken up until 5 p.m.

Away from the House chamber, leadership sorted through the amendments and often determined their fate — puff, puff, pass — as the reps who filed them were bouncing around the room and satisfying their munchies with Swedish Fish and Twizzlers.

Eventually, at about 9:40 p.m., the House did vote — 126-28 — to pass its marijuana law rewrite and hand it off for the Senate to take a hit.

When the Senate gaveled in shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday the House was still bogarting the bill, giving it one final review.

"I know that we eagerly await the arrival of legislation relative to the control of the adult recreational use of marijuana in our chamber as it is being finally processed in the chamber down the hall," Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said, interrupted by Rosenberg banging his gavel.

Rosenberg asked, "Did he say awaiting papers from the House so that the Senate chamber, we may consume marijuana in the Senate chamber?"

"Mr. President, I know that may have been wishful thinking on your part," Tarr responded, "but that was not what I said."

By noon, the Senate had begun working through the 111 amendments proposed and wrapped up its work Thursday night at about 9:15 p.m. with a 30-5 roll call vote.

After delaying parts of the voter law six months, legislative leaders tied themselves to a June 30 deadline to get a marijuana bill to the governor's desk.

The House's 28% and the Senate's 12% tax rates will likely be reconciled with the Goldilocks method — one's too high, the other too low, so settle on something in that "just right" middle ground.

Working through the issue of local control may be a bit stickier for the committee. The Senate maintained the ballot law's requirement that a city or town can only ban marijuana facilities by a townwide referendum, but the House gave that power instead to local elected officials.

Their compromise bill will have to clear both branches one last time before going to Gov. Baker for his signature.



News Moderator: Ron Strider 420 MAGAZINE ®
Full Article: The State House’s excellent marijuana adventure
Author: Colin A. Young
Contact: Contact Us - The Recorder newspaper, in Greenfield, MA.
Photo Credit: Colin A. Young
Website: The Recorder - Daily newspaper from Greenfield, MA