Talks Stall as Deadline Looms for Massachusetts Cannabis Bill

Published on June 30, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

BOSTON (AP) — Talks between the House and Senate over a compromise marijuana law appeared stalled Friday, even as lawmakers faced a self-imposed deadline for delivering a bill to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk.

A six-member House-Senate conference committee met briefly after failing to strike an agreement the previous day. Democrat Patricia Jehlen, the Senate’s chief negotiator, said little as she left Friday’s meeting but indicated that she expected the committee to reconvene later.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, the chief House negotiator, would only say going into Friday’s closed-door meeting that he remained “hopeful” for an agreement.

Legislative leaders, along with the Republican governor, had earlier expressed confidence that a deal would be struck on a revamped recreational cannabis bill by the Friday deadline. While there was nothing to prevent negotiations from continuing past the deadline, the Legislature was heading into its July 4 holiday recess and there was pressure from marijuana-legalization advocates on state officials to begin steps to fully implement the current law approved by voters in November.

Asked if the conference committee was deadlocked, Jehlen replied: “I can’t say that.” Legislative aides held open the possibility that the House and Senate could hold rare Saturday sessions to vote on a compromise bill, if one were to emerge Friday.

While lawmakers from both chambers had called for changes to the law that legalized adult use of recreational marijuana, the House and Senate took dramatically different approaches.

The House voted to repeal the law and replace it with a more expansive bill that bumped the tax rate on retail cannabis sales from a maximum 12 percent to a required 28 percent. The measure also gave local governing bodies, such as city councils and select boards, authority to ban cannabis shops from opening within their communities.

The Senate voted to keep the current law in place with more modest revisions. The Senate bill held the tax rate at 12 percent and kept the power to prohibit marijuana stores in the hands of voters.

Legalization advocates lashed out at the House bill, calling it an assault on the will of voters, while praising the Senate for its more restrained approach.

“As we’ve said all along, the legalization measure passed by 1.8 million voters requires no fixes,” said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the group that sponsored the November ballot question.

If no deal is struck, the voter-approved law would remain in effect. The law calls on state Treasurer Deb Goldberg to appoint a three-member Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the legal cannabis industry, but lawmakers have sought to expand the commission and make it more independent.

Absent an agreement on Friday, Borghesani called on Baker to “uphold the voters’ will by immediately releasing funds necessary for the treasurer to begin forming the governing body of this important new industry.”

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