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Mass. Officials Go Against Voters, Delay Cannabis Shops from Opening

In a decision that goes against what 1.8 million voters expressed during last month’s general election, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed a bill Wednesday morning after an informal session that delays the opening date for recreational cannabis stores by half a year.

The opening date for Massachusetts adult-use cannabis stores will now go from January of 2018 to the summer of that year. Both chambers took under an hour to pass the bill.

People like Jim Borghesani, a leader of the Question 4 campaign to regulate and legalize adult-use cannabis, have said that the quicker cannabis stores open, the better. The state now exists in a legal gray area, with cannabis being legal to possess but illegal to sell.

“We are very disappointed that the Legislature has decided to alter Question 4 in an informal session with very little notice regarding proposed changes,” Borghesani told the Boston Globe.

He added that 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 legislative revisions are necessary.”

The seemingly informal session did not garner a lot of public notice, with just two senators present Wednesday morning: Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and Republican Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. The passage of the substitute amendment took less than a minute.

Rosenberg was quoted by the Boston Globe saying to the nearly empty Senate chamber, “The substitute amendment has to do with a six-month delay in certain provisions of the bill.”

The decision to have the informal session is unfortunate for those who supported Question 4 in Massachusetts, as formal sessions for the two-year legislative cycle have already ended, and during informal sessions the objection of a single member can stop the legislative measure.

Unfortunately, none voiced one Wednesday, considering there were only a few members of the state present. Informal sessions permit no roll-call votes, meaning that none of the lawmakers present Wednesday are on the record with their objections or support.

State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg, who is the state’s top cannabis regulator, has been very vocal in urging a delay. She has said on numerous occasions that to create an effective new bureaucracy that can regulate and police adult-use cannabis sales requires more time than the ballot question originally gave her.

With that being said, the original text of Question 4 was quite aggressive in implementing adult-use cannabis, mainly enacting when people can start purchasing adult-use cannabis if they are 21 years or older. Originally, the law was designed to have dispensaries begin selling cannabis on or before Jan. 1, 2018—just one year after the bill was passed.

As we have seen in the industry already, getting a legal cannabis program up and running in a state can take some time, and not every state can be as fast and as smooth as Colorado was when it debuted its framework. The Rocky Mountain state was able to get its stores operating in 13 months because it already had a seed-to-sale regulatory system established with all of its medical dispensaries. Washington State required 18 months while Oregon took more than a year, and Alaska needed two years to do so.