Massachusetts lawmakers learning about legal pot - Metro US

Massachusetts lawmakers learning about legal pot

Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Rep. Dave Rogers said Wednesday he isn’t planning on getting a marijuana legalization bill through the State House this year.

“Candidly, the likelihood of legislative action on this issue during this legislative session is not great,” Rogers told Metro.

But the Cambridge Democrat was at a hearing today for a bill he’s sponsoring that would mimic the ideas in a pro-pot ballot question that has so far passed hurdles to get on the ballot in November.

The idea, he said: get state lawmakers up to speed on legal bud in Massachusetts, a state advocates hope will welcome a legal marketplace for marijuana in a few years’ time.

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“It is paramount that lawmakers have deep frank discussions about what regulatory frameworks will best protect public health and safety, end the underground market and ensure a fair marketplace,” he said.

Rogers joined Dick Evans, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol at a hearing on the bill Wednesday.

Evans’ organization has proposed making it legal to buy and use marijuana and edible drug-laced products in private, to smoke in cannabis “cafes” and to grow six plants per person at home. It also proposes setting up a Cannabis Control Commission, taxing marijuana sales via a 3.75 percent excise tax on top of sales tax, plus a local tax of up to 2 percent. Voters could vote on those ideas later this year.

The question for lawmakers, said Campaign chairman Dick Evans at the hearing, isn’t “whether” to legalize it, but “how,” according to the State House News Service.

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“It’s coming one way or another,” Bill Downing of the pro-legalization MassCann said at the hearing Wednesday, the News Service reported. “I just hope the Legislature takes the reins and does it right.”

But right now, the Campaign is focusing on teaching people in power about what it calls the benefits of legal marijuana, its spokesman said.

“We do want to work with them even if it’s an informational campaign,” said Jim Borghesani, the group’s communications director, in an interview.

At the same time, a group of legislators this week were dispatched to Colorado to learn more about the legal-pot industry in a state that for the past two years has let citizens buy handfuls of weed like Bay Staters buy six-packs.

On Wednesday, they visited a Denver cultivation center and dispensary, the Boston Globe reported.

Right now, the State House does not appear friendly to marijuana. House Speaker Robert DeLeo does not support legalization, nor does Gov. Charlie Baker. The Senate’s president, Stan Rosenberg, hasn’t said publicly what his stance is on the issue.

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But the road to post-prohibition here could still lead through Beacon Hill. Should the ballot measure pass this year, lawmakers could decide to tweak some aspects of it.

The Campaign also has an enemy in Bay State Repeal, the group that led an unsuccessful bid to win full legalization, but with fewer taxes and less bureaucracy.

Steven Epstein, its press secretary, called the new tax-and-regulate focus of legalization a disappointment, and made his resentment clear.

“I loathe” it, he told Metro. “And I hope the people of Massachusetts vote it down. We can wait and get it right without creating welfare for crony capitalists.”

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