It took less than an hour, and only about a half-dozen Massachusetts lawmakers, to quietly undo the will of 1.8 million voters, report Joshua Miller and Jim O’Sullivan at The Boston Globe.
According to The Globe, the “extraordinary move” by lawmakers took place in an “informal” legislative session with “just a half-dozen legislators present.” It would undo a big part of the new marijuana law.
With little debate and without taking any public testimony, Massachusetts House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday voted to significantly amend and delay implementation of Massachusetts’ voter-initiated marijuana legalization law.
The vote sets the stage to delay the establishment of state-licensed retail cannabis stores from January 1, 2018 to July 1, 2018. The state now exists in a legal gray zone, with marijuana being legal to possess, but still illegal to sell.
The delay still needs to be approved by Gov. Charlie Baker. It flies in the face of the law approved by voters last month, report Jason Frazer and Kaitlin Flanigan at NBC Boston.
Separate provisions in the law eliminating penalties for adults to who privately possess or grow personal use quantities of cannabis took effect on December 15. That wouldn’t change under the measure.
“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 led the Question 4 legalization campaign in Massachusetts.
Borghesani said the group 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 [l]egislative revisions are necessary.”
Just two Senators were present for Wednesday morning’s action, the chamber’s two two lawmakers, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and GOP Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. Passage of the substitute amendment took less than a minute; that’s how easy it is to overrule the voters.
“The substitute amendment has to do with a six-month delay in certain provisions of the bill,” Rosenberg helpfully “explained” to an empty Senate chamber.
Less than an hour later in the House, with only about five members on hand, passage took only seconds. One House member who was there said later he didn’t think the measure had passed.
The objection of just one single member of either the House or the Senate would have stopped the measure. None were voiced — but then again, only half a dozen members even had the chance.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws had been urging lawmakers to adopt the law swiftly as voters intended. NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri called lawmakers’ action a “slap in the face” to the nearly two million Massachusetts voters who decided in favor of Question 4 on Election Day.
“The arrogance and hubris lawmakers are showing toward voters is remarkable,” Altieri said. “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.”
The move by lawmakers to delay aspects of the law’s implementation is not altogether surprising. Politicians and bureaucrats, seemingly unhappy with the voters’ decision, had previously discussed restricting home cultivation as well as raising the proposed sales taxes rate on marijuana sales.