The Massachusetts Senate passed a bill making targeted adjustments to the voter-mandated marijuana legalization law. Senators voted 30-5 in favor of their version, which now heads to a time-pressured conference committee with the House. Legislative leaders have vowed to send a bill to Governor Charlie Baker by next Friday to allow retail shops to open by July 2018. Unlike the House, which mandates a 28 percent total tax rate on marijuana, the Senate would preserve the 12 percent maximum levy voters chose when they voted for the law last November.
Advocates of the new law, after ripping the House for snubbing the will of the 1.8 million voters who supported the referendum, cheered the Senate version. Michael Cutler, an attorney and member of the drafting committee for the Question 4 ballot measure that passed last year, said that, while attention has fixed largely on tax, local control, and social justice provisions of the bill, “a fundamental difference” more clearly divides the House and Senate. Taking a far lighter hand to the law than did the House, the Senate retained the underlying law’s stipulation that voters hold the power to ban pot shops in their city or town. The House hands the power to local officials.Under both versions, using, possessing, and growing limited amounts of pot will still be legal. Both also combine oversight of the recreational and medical marijuana sectors.
The House and Senate have done little to hide their disagreements over how best to refine the legalization law, and senators in both parties Thursday issued floor remarks about respecting the will of the voters that could have been read as thinly masked swipes at their counterparts on the other side of the capitol. One amendment adopted by the Senate decrees that any record of a marijuana-related offense that is no longer consider a crime would be eligible to be sealed. As the bill neared passage, the Senate on a voice vote added an amendment allowing courts to expunge offenders’ Class D possession records. Another established penalties for adults who provide marijuana or related products to minors.
Frank T. Luciano is a lifetime member of the legal committee of the National Reformation of Marijuana Laws. He has been defending persons charged with marijuana and other drug related offenses for almost 40 years.