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Mass. legislators continue to debate about marijuana legalization

Legislators delay the implementation of the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. PHOTO BY LAUREN PETERSON/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
Legislators delay the implementation of the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. PHOTO BY LAUREN PETERSON/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Since Massachusetts voters casted their ballot on Question 4 and made it legal to purchase and consume recreational marijuana in the state, the law has been under high scrutiny by state legislators.

Massachusetts Sen. Stan Rosenberg is one of the key lawmakers analyzing the legislation. Collaborating closely with fellow legislators on Beacon Hill, Rosenberg has been working to delay implementation of the law in order to make improvements, according to a press release from his official website.

The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act went into effect on Dec. 15, but on Dec. 28, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the bill, delaying the sale of recreational marijuana in regulated retail markets by six months, according to the release.

“The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety,” Rosenberg said in the release. “This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law.”

Rosenberg was unavailable to comment on the pending marijuana legislation.

Jim Borghesani, the spokesperson for Yes on 4, an organization that spearheaded the campaign for marijuana legalization in November, said he sees this bill as an attack on the original ballot question.

“The legislator seems to be readying, frankly, an assault on Question 4,” Borghesani said. “We’re very concerned about what we’re hearing on Beacon Hill, and we’re very concerned about the bills that have been filed which would make unacceptable changes to a law that was passed by 54 percent of Massachusetts voters.”

In addition to the six-month delay on implementation, Borghesani said legislators have planned to make big changes to the law, including reducing homegrown limits, setting possession limits, and raising the legal age for consuming marijuana from 21 to 25 years of age.

“What they’re trying to do is create a new form of prohibition,” Borghesani said. “The people ended prohibition, and they don’t want to see it replaced with a prohibition by other means. So this would be very, very dangerous for the whole initiative petition process.”

Borghesani said the application of the law was meant to be handled by appointed regulators, not legislators.

“The law is set up to give regulators authority over writing and enforcing regulations,” Borghesani said. “The law was not set up to have legislators involved. The legislator had a chance to pass this bill, they chose to do nothing, and now suddenly after the people have spoken, they’re jumping in and they’re making unnecessary and unacceptable changes.”

As talks of changes to the law continue, Borghesani urges legislators to collaborate with appointed regulators and the Cannabis Control Commission.

“[My hope is] that the legislator does nothing and they let the regulators write the rules that will govern the industry,” Borghesani said. “Then if any legislation is required, they undertake it under the advice and the guidance of the Cannabis Control Commission.”

Jay Larason, the director of highway safety at the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said not enough emphasis was put on the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana throughout the legalization debate, which is why delays could be beneficial.

“The challenge is … now [that] it’s legal, to find ways of making sure that people understand the dangers and that they understand what the law is, in terms of driving under the influence,” Larason said. “The state needs to … make sure we have the systems in place to be able to identify accurately drivers who are impaired using marijuana.”

Although it is difficult to determine whether an increase in marijuana-related driving accidents has occurred since the law was passed in Massachusetts, due to a lack of available data, other states have noted a rise, Larason said.

“In states that it has passed, there has been an increase in general marijuana use with drivers,” Larason said. “In Colorado, the percentage of drivers who were involved in fatal crashes who had marijuana in their system is much higher since the law passed.”

Educational programs are currently in the early stages of development, which are largely aimed at raising awareness for the general public and law enforcement, Larason said.

Several Boston residents showed their continuing support for the original ballot measure, and they were conflicted about the changes that the legislature is trying to make.

 

Marissa Mamon, 27, of Brighton, voted to legalize recreational marijuana. She said the popular vote should not be overridden.

“I’ve done some research on the topic, and I really think that there are a lot of health benefits,” Mamon said. “This [change in the legislation] cannot happen. If the people vote on something and it gets passed, how could you then go and change it? It’s dreadful.”

Romes Levine, 26, of Allston, said though the changes are unfortunate, the government should have the final word.

“I don’t like [the changes]. It means that those who were excited … have to wait another six months,” Levine said. “[But] if changes needed to be made, then I understand. Despite what people vote on, it is the government’s job to pass what they think is best for the state.”

Jordan Kimmel contributed to the reporting of this article.

A previous version of this story said the six-month delay on legislation applied to marijuana usage. This is incorrect, as the delay only applied to the sale of the drug by recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts.Additionally, a resident quoted in this article was wrongly identified and the quote has now been omitted from the article. This correction is reflected in the story above. 

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