Mass. officials say legal marijuana faces lengthy 'to do' list

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker says he intends to honor the will of voters on the legalization of marijuana, but also wants to make sure the new law is properly implemented.

Massachusetts is among at least three U.S. states that were added Tuesday to the small but growing list of places to allow recreational pot. The voter-approved law takes effect on Dec. 15, but retail sales of the drug are probably more than a year away.

Massachusetts was among at least three U.S. states added Tuesday to the small but growing list of states that have approved the use of recreational pot by adults.

On Wednesday, Baker, a Republican who opposed the ballot question, told reporters there was a lengthy "to do" list associated with putting the new law into effect.

"It will be done in a way that protects public safety and ensures that only those who are supposed to have access to these products will," said the governor, adding he wanted to avoid regulatory missteps of the kind that slowed the state's launch of a medical marijuana program approved by voters in 2012.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who also opposed Question 4, said he planned discussions with other lawmakers and the governor about the next steps in implementing recreational marijuana.

Lawmakers had suggested prior to Tuesday's vote that there could be some tinkering with the ballot initiative if it won approval. Critics contended the proposal had been written by - and for the benefit of - the multibillion dollar marijuana industry.

Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg, whose office will oversee the new law, said additional time may be needed for implementation, including the creation of a state licensing authority known as the Cannabis Control Commission.

The governor also needs to establish a separate panel to advise the commission.

The 3.75 percent surcharge on retail sales of marijuana included in the ballot question would not cover the regulatory costs associated with the law while at the same time generating promised tax revenues for the state and local communities, Goldberg said.

The surcharge is on top of the state's regular 6.25 percent sales tax, and municipalities would have the option of tacking on an additional 2 percent tax.

Baker would not say on Wednesday whether he would be open to hiking the marijuana tax, which as it stands would be significantly lower than in states where recreational marijuana has previously been legalized, including Colorado or Washington. Baker has taken a hard line against tax increases of any kind in Massachusetts.

As of Dec. 15, it will be legal for adults 21 and older to possess small amounts of marijuana and grow pot in their homes - up to 6 plants per individual and 12 plants per household. Marijuana use would remain illegal in public places, such as parks.

Retail sales are likely a year or more away, under the following timeline set by the law:

  • Feb. 1, 2017: Governor makes first appointments to 15-member Cannabis Advisory Board.
  • March 1, 2017: Treasurer makes first appointments to 3-member Cannabis Control commission.
  • Sept. 15, 2017: Commission establishes initial regulations.
  • Oct. 1, 2017: Commission issues first licenses for marijuana cultivators, manufacturers and retailers.

Existing medical marijuana treatment facilities will be given preference on commercial licenses until Jan. 1, 2018, after which licenses will be awarded to qualified applicants by lottery.

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Posted by Boston 25 News on Wednesday, November 9, 2016