Baker, Beacon Hill leaders, weigh potential marijuana regulations in wake of pot law’s passage

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BOSTON — After emerging from a meeting Monday afternoon with House and Senate leaders, Governor Charlie Baker told reporters that any changes made to the state’s new marijuana law must “abide by and live up to the intent of the voters.”

The recreational use of marijuana became legal in Massachusetts on Thursday, December 15, following a ballot initiative victory on Election Day that saw Bay State voters back the measure 54 percent to 46 percent. Lawmakers are now weighing taxation and enforcement matters.

“Obviously the first thing we have to figure out is what do we think the cost of actually managing and overseeing and regulating what the public health safety issues are that are associated with it,” Baker said. “And then how much revenue we think the law as it is written is actually going to generate, but we certainly want to make sure that whatever the costs of overseeing and regulating what recreational marijuana is, is covered by the the tax that’s applied to it.

“But I think that we would all agree that we’ve got some homework to do before we figure out the answer to that.”

The initiative passed by voters calls for marijuana to be subject to a 3.75 percent excise tax on top of the state’s  6.25 percent sales tax. Cities and towns can tack on an additional tax of up to 2 percent, bringing the maximum to 12 percent.

A three-member Cannabis Commission is supposed to regulate marijuana, akin to how the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission regulates booze. The deadline for appointments to the new Cannabis Commission is March 17.

The initiative also calls for retail pot shops to open their doors by 2018.

All of these stipulations could be subject to some Beacon Hill tweaking. Baker was also asked whether he’d support legislation raising age restrictions to 25.

“I think it comes down to whether or not it’s consistent with the intent and the will of the voters, and that, to my mind, is a function to a whole package of things,” Baker said. “What’s the legal age? How do you protect kids? What are the public safety issues and how do you make sure local communities still have some control?

“It was a 6,000-word ballot question, the voters to some extent said, broadly speaking, that they’d like to have this recreational product be legal here in the commonwealth.”

Asked what, if any, changes he’d like to see made to the new marijuana law, Baker said he’d like to “make sure we abide by and live up to the intent of the voters’ will on this one.”

“But there have been a bunch of issues around public health and public safety and local control that have come up over the course of the conversation,” Baker added.

“I would expect that these guys would be dealing with those as part of their conversation,” he said, referring to state legislators.

House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) noted that only 10 lawmakers actually “came out in favor of the legislation.”

“To me that translates into a highly robust debate in terms of rules, regulations, age, taxes, anything and everything,” DeLeo said. “I think in the House anyways it’s going to be a really interesting debate.”

Asked about how fast he thinks lawmakers can fine-tune regulations, DeLeo did not reveal a specific timetable.

“How fast can it come out of committee is one thing — how fast it can come out of debate and conference is another,” he said. “It’s my intent that we make sure we try to comply obviously with the will of the voters when it comes to passing legislation.”

“We don’t want to unduly delay anything, but on the other hand we have to make sure that people have their right to be heard as the voters have done. It will move along,” DeLeo said.

DeLeo was also hesitant to mention a specific tax increase.

“Here I think it is a question of what is the right number so there isn’t a whole lot of illegal sales going on, but at the same time making sure that the state at the very least gets enough to make sure it can be implemented safely,” he said.



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