State lawmakers vote to delay opening of pot shops

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The legal sale of marijuana in Massachusetts will be pushed back well into 2018, according to a press release from the State House News Service. The amendment to the law to legalize recreational use of marijuana (approved by voters on Nov. 8) delays by six months the process of licensing shops that will sell marijuana for recreational use.

The amendment was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, Dec. 28, and then passed two hours later in both branches of the state legislature.

According to a story posted on the Boston Globe’s website, the opening date for marijuana shops will be delayed from January 2018, the date in the original legislation authorized by a successful ballot initiative this fall, to summer 2018.

“The extraordinary move, made in informal sessions with just a half-dozen legislators present,” the Globe reported, “would unravel a significant part of the legalization measure passed by 1.8 million voters just last month. About 1.5 million people voted against it.”

In addition to delaying all deadlines in the law by six months, the amendment, proposed by State Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester), requires the Baker administration to hire a “research entity” to complete a survey which would study marijuana use — including patterns of use and methods of consumption, incidents of impaired driving, marijuana-related hospitalizations, and the economic impacts on the state. Results must be reported to the legislature by July 1, 2018.

The amendment included an “emergency preamble,” inserted before the enacting clause of the original legislation: “Whereas, The deferred operation of this act would tend to defeat its purpose, which is to ensure the safe implementation of marijuana legalization, therefore it is hereby declared to be an emergency law, necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health.”

“The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the newly appointed committee to work with stakeholders on improving the new law,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) in a press release issued jointly with Speaker of the House Robert deLeo (D-Revere). “Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country.”
Cape and Islands representative Tim Madden of Nantucket could not be reached for comment. His staff said he was not at the State House on Wednesday for the vote on this legislation. Senator Dan Wolf’s office responded to The Times’ query, “Senator Wolf supported the measure passed today by the legislature given that the bill allows the state a modest amount of additional time to implement the will of the voters.”