Mass. lawmakers take fact-finding pot-shop tour in Denver

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DENVER – A group of Massachusetts lawmakers returned Thursday from what state Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) described as a marijuana “fact-finding” trip to Colorado, where voters legalized pot in 2012.

The three-day visit came after a proposal to make the drug legal in Massachusetts moved closer to the November ballot, putting the Legislature on the spot. On Wednesday, backers of legalization urged lawmakers in the State House to pass a similar legislative measure, as a way to keep control of the issue.

The proposed ballot initiative would make marijuana sales subject to an extra 3.75 percent levy on top of the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, and it would let cities and towns tack on another 2 percent for sales within their boundaries. The proposal would also permit adults to grow up to six individual marijuana plants in a residential setting, with proper security.

Initiative backers obtained enough voter signatures to move the question a step further in the process last month.  State lawmakers now have until May 10 to either adopt its language in legislation or ignore it. In the latter case, backers need just 10,792 more signatures to win a spot for the question on the November ballot.

Several legislators posted images and messages on Twitter during their trip:

In another Twitter comment, state Sen. James Welch (D-West Springfield) said the “most common theme from Colorado officials seems to focus around the lack of baseline data,” referring to a dearth in original information needed to identify the most significant trends.

State Sen. Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) told the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle he expects the initiative to pass in November, should it get that far, but noted that he’s opposed to it. He said he “doesn’t see the public good” in legalization, according to the newspaper.

Ross said the visit shed light on complications that lawmakers had never before considered, such as the effect legalization would have on banks. Even if Massachusetts voters decide to decriminalize marijuana, possession would still violate federal law, and proceeds from legal sales can create headaches for highly regulated banks.

More regulation questions also arise when marijuana is used to make food like cookies and brownies. Among the more than 100 pot shops that have sprung up in Denver alone, drug-infused items on sale include chocolate bars, Cherry Gummies, Peanut Butter Gems and Watermelon Drops. They also sell dried leaves and plant buds.

“If I were to buy this, what would I do with it? Do I crush it? Roll it?” state Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) asked a shopkeeper, according to a Boston Globe report. High Times, the magazine founded in 1974 that advocates legalizing marijuana, had some fun with that comment.

“Massachusetts Senator shows he is clueless about marijuana during Colorado visit,” the magazine cackled in a headline on its website.

“It seems the eight Massachusetts senators, brought together last year to form the state’s ‘Special Committee on Marijuana,’ have absolutely no idea of what cannabis is, what it does, or how it is consumed,” wrote Mike Adams, a High Times columnist.