Senate President Stan Rosenberg: Tax rate, edibles could be considered as lawmakers alter marijuana law
BOSTON — State lawmakers are already thinking about how to change the marijuana legalization law that voters approved Tuesday.
“Clearly, there need to be some improvements to the bill,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said Thursday.
Despite opposition from many of the state’s top public officials — Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Attorney General Maura Healey and others — Massachusetts voters voted in favor of a law that will legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults. Rosenberg voted for the question.
The ballot question was written by supporters of legalized marijuana. Now that it passed, the Legislature has the authority to change the law.
Baker said Wednesday he will honor the will of voters and try to move quickly toward implementation. “It’s incumbent on us to make sure we as briskly and responsibly as we can move forward and implement the law,” Baker said.
But Baker said he also wants to ensure that implementation is done in a way that protects public safety and makes sure only adults are able to access marijuana.
Even before the ballot question passed, top lawmakers and policymakers had talked about trying to alter provisions in the law.
Under the new law, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has authority to appoint the new marijuana regulatory authority, the Cannabis Control Commission.
Goldberg said Wednesday she thinks some of the deadlines in the law are too tight. For example, the way it is written, a license application for a marijuana store would be automatically approved if the state takes more than three months to consider it.
Goldberg has also said she thinks the proposed tax rate — which at a maximum of 12 percent would be the lowest in the nation — is too low.
Rosenberg, speaking to reporters Thursday, said he, DeLeo and Goldberg will work together on establishing a process for revising the law, which will involve bringing together all the interested groups: those who wrote the law and those who will be affected by its implementation. Rosenberg would not offer specifics on what he hopes to change, but he said there are issues identified in a Senate report on marijuana released last March that may not be fully addressed by the ballot question. There also may be best practices that have developed since the question was drafted.
Rosenberg said some examples of issues that might be addressed are the tax rate, provisions related to driving under the influence, and regulations for edible products such as marijuana-infused candy and soda. Regulations could touch on packaging and product potency.
“This is the lowest tax rate in all of the states that have legalized it so far, and we have to make sure that we cover all the costs of setting up the regulatory system and implementing and enforcing it,” Rosenberg said. “We have to think about public safety costs and addiction prevention and treatment.” Rosenberg added that some states have made additional money from taxing marijuana, and he is “open” to the idea.
The new Cannabis Control Commission will be tasked with writing regulations. Rosenberg said it is possible the commission will be able to address all these issues. If not, the Legislature has authority to step in.
Rosenberg said his goal is “to make sure we have the best law in the country at this time so public health and public safety are addressed.”
While Rosenberg did not rule out pushing off some deadlines — under the current law, marijuana will be allowed to be sold by Jan. 1, 2018 whether or not regulations are fully written — he said lawmakers should not delay too long.
After voters approved medical marijuana in 2012, it took until 2016 for the first dispensaries to open, due to problems with the state regulatory and licensing process.
“We should not dilly dally,” Rosenberg said. “This needs to be implemented in a reasonable time, because that respects the will of voters.”