Nearly two million Massachusetts residents voted to legalize recreational marijuana back on November 8, making it the first New England state to do so. However, it only took a handful of lawmakers less than an hour to make a major change to the law that many supporters of legalization in the Commonwealth are not happy with.
On Wednesday, when most legislators were not in attendance, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed an amendment to the legalization measure that would delay crucial components of “Question 4.” Originally scheduled to open at the top of 2018, recreational dispensaries are now slated to open six months later in July.
The state’s highest ranking Senators, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, were the only two in attendance early Wednesday morning. It took the pair less than a minute to pass the substitute amendment.
“The substitute amendment has to do with a six-month delay in certain provisions of the bill,” stated Rosenberg, who warned that this may be coming earlier this month. However, there was barely anyone in the deserted chambers to hear his explanation.
Turnout wasn’t much better in the House, as it only took five representatives to pass the amendment in literally seconds.
If you’re wondering why this substitute amendment was brought forth for a vote while such a minute amount of lawmakers were clocked in, it has to do with the Commonwealth’s two-year legislative cycle. Because the window for formal sessions is closed for this current cycle, only informal sessions are permitted. During an informal session, even one “nay” vote can kill a newly introduced measure — so their odds of passing the substitute amendment were pretty decent with so few attendees. To add insult to injury, there is no roll-call during an informal session, so any votes for or against the amendment are off the record.
Supporters of the legalization measure maintain that opening recreational shops as quickly as possible is the best course of action for Massachusetts.
“We are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter Question 4 in an informal session with very little notice regarding proposed changes,” said Jim Borghesani, who was instrumental in the Question 4 campaign.
Borghesani also said he and the rest of the legalization effort was “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.”
Deborah B. Goldberg, the State Treasurer who was appointed as the chief marijuana regulator in Massachusetts, was a staunch supporter of the delay. According to the Boston Globe, Goldberg has said that, “to create an effective new bureaucracy that can regulate and police recreational marijuana sales requires more time than the ballot question gave her.”
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri called the retail delay a “slap in the face” to the majority of voters who supported Question 4 in November.
“The arrogance and hubris lawmakers are showing toward voters is remarkable,” Altieri added. “The voters have spoken and it is incumbent on legislators to carry out their will. Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to impose criminal penalties on marijuana – doing so in 1914. After more than a century of this failed policy, it is time to bring prohibition to an end in Massachusetts.”
Cover Image Courtesy of Arc of Mass