Legal Marijuana Begins In Massachusetts

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Smoke it, grow it, bake it. Even wrap it in a box with a bow on top and give it to a friend.

Just don’t sell it. Not yet, anyway.

Marijuana became legal in Massachusetts Dec. 15, but there’s still a long way to go before the somewhat hazy vision of ballot activists becomes a reality.

"It’s legal. I just hope everybody pays attention to the rules," Gov. Charlie Baker, who opposed the ballot initiative, said hours after stepping off a plane from Israel. And there are lots of rules.

For starters, you have to be 21 to legally possess and use marijuana, and you still can’t smoke it in public. You can grow up to six plants at home, or 12 if there’s more than one person in the household, and you can gift up to an ounce to a friend of legal age.

But you still can’t sell it. In fact, despite being legal, there’s technically no legal way to procure non-medical marijuana. That will have to wait until probably 2018 at the earliest, when the first retail pot shops could be licensed and open for business.

Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett sent a lengthy memo to police explaining the "complex web" of new laws and guidelines to help them adjust to a new enforcement paradigm, with the caveat that the incoming Trump administration and Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions could upend the whole process if they decide to aggressively enforce federal law.

The doors to the state legalization of pot swung wide open earlier last week when, in a joint statement, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said they would not pursue last-minute legislation to delay the effective date of the new law. That allowed House lawmakers to return to Beacon Hill for a stress-free Thursday of holiday parties and goodbyes to departing colleagues – 11 in total – who won’t be returning in January.

The Democratic leaders did not rule out delaying other aspects of the implementation process, but those decisions are still to come. With lawmakers stepping back, the last step was what should have been a perfunctory vote by the Governor’s Council to certify the election results.

Since no one has challenged the integrity of the election, the council vote was expected to be a routine sign-off until Councilor Jennie Caissie tried, albeit too late, to force a roll call on Question 4 – the pot question. Even though the council’s job was not to vote on the merits of the ballot questions themselves, Caissie wanted to do it, anyway.

"This is not about respecting the voters of Massachusetts. This is about life and death," the Oxford Republican said. "I will not vote today to destroy more lives."

However, because she spoke up too late and the election results had already been certified, Caissie never got her roll call and pot is now legal.

The big question now is what happens next. Rosenberg actually went against the speaker, governor, attorney general, Boston mayor and others in supporting legalized marijuana, but it seems increasingly like making marijuana legal was the only thing about the 8,500-word law that he agreed with.

In addition to wanting to increase the 3.75 percent tax rate on pot and explore marketing restrictions on edibles and other products, the Amherst Democrat said he’s also interested in raising the legal age to 25. Rosenberg admitted that the idea would be "unpopular" and he was right. Even Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh, an ardent opponent of legal pot, said that might be going too far.

What didn’t go far enough, apparently, was the MBTA’s plan to purchase 132 new Red Line cars from Chinese manufacturer CRRC. While those cars are already on order, the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board decided Dec. 12 that it would be better to replace the entire Red Line fleet than overhaul and repair 84 older cars.

The board voted to purchase an additional 120 to 134 cars at a cost of up to $280 million that will make the whole Red Line fleet new by 2024. The new trains will probably improve the riding experience, eventually, but in the meantime the tens of thousands that commute on the T each day need more-immediate improvement and expect Baker to deliver.

In that vein, a press conference to showcase the T’s winter resiliency efforts, including new snow-removal equipment, infrastructure upgrades and new logistical plans for winter storms was postponed Dec. 15 in order for workers to actually go out into the field and make sure the system was ready for the brutal chill and wind gusts that engulfed the state by the end of the week.

Baker returned from his first international trade mission last week confident that the relationships and agreements forged in Israel over his week-long trip will serve the state’s burgeoning digital health and cybersecurity industries well.

While he was gone, his budget chief Kristen Lepore announced that 900 state employees had opted to take a voluntary buyout, cutting the executive branch payroll by $12 million this fiscal year and holding the promise of $70 million in savings next year.

The program fell short of the governor’s goal of saving $25 million in fiscal 2017, but Baker and Lepore both said it was successful enough to avoid widespread layoffs across government.

The state workforce reduction – at a time when the state’s total unemployment rate fell to a miniscule 2.9 percent – will also help to prepare the state for the inevitable economic downturn, Baker said.

The fact that revenue growth remains slow at a time when more people are working than at possibly any time in the state’s history demonstrates, according to Baker, that he and lawmakers need to be careful about excessive spending.

Baker said numbers suggest to him an "underlying softness to what people are making and earning" and serve as a reminder that reaching for additional revenue through broad-based tax increases would be a mistake.

Baker’s messaging on taxes, however, is sure to be read with a magnifying glass by legislative leaders, particularly those in the House like DeLeo who, for the first time in several years, have not yet reflexively ruled out tax hikes.

"If the Legislature wants to flatten the tax code or make other kinds of adjustments to close loopholes and do other stuff like that then I’m open to that," Baker said. "But if you’re asking me if I would support an across-the-board tax increase on working families here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the answer to that one is no, I would veto that."

So begins the guessing game of what kind of tax hikes he would support, or at least not fight (AirBnb?) and what he will oppose (gas tax?).

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Legal Marijuana Begins In Massachusetts
Author: Matt Murphy
Contact: 508-591-6615
Photo Credit: Craig F. Walker
Website: Wicked Local Kingston