Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that could delay the implementation ofretail marijuana sales by six months.
The bill would change the date forlaunching retail sales and give officials more time to set up the Cannabis Control Board that will oversee the dispensaries. It would not affect possession and home growing provisions that went into effect on Dec. 15.
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"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 legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said.
Voters approved the ballot measure on Nov. 8 that lays out the timeline for legalization. Jim Borghesani, communications director for the Yes on 4 campaign, which lobbied for legalization, said the January 2018 deadline was enough time to prepare for the opening of retail dispensaries.
"This measure was carefully written with full consideration of timelines and processes we don't think that any legislative action was necessary," he said, adding that it mirrored the timelines taken by Washington and Colorado, which both legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.
The bill still needs to besigned by Gov. Charlie Baker before becoming law, but would push the deadline for the Cannabis Control Commission outsix months untilMarch 15, 2018to develop initial regulations. Applications for testing facility licenses and for retail sales from established medical marijuana dispensaries would be delayed untilApril 1, 2018. The first dispensaries would open in July 2018.
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg would also have until September, instead of March, to set up the new Cannabis Control Commission.
"Our goal has always been to make sure that the intent of the voters is carried out," DeLeo said in a statement. "The delay will allow the committee process to work through the law's complicated implications and provide a process by which we can strengthen, refine and improve it."
Borghesani also said he was disappointed lawmakers waited until a sparely attended day at the end of the legislative session to take a vote.
"We're disappointed that the legislature chose to do this in informal session with little notice and we'redisappointedthat this awkward period of legalpossessionbutillegalsales will continue for longer," he said.
The bill was introduced Wednesday morning and voted on a few hours later.