Not So Fast: The Pot Law Overhaul Just Stalled

The bill to rewrite Massachusetts’ marijuana law won’t come up for a vote.

PHOTO BY MASSHIGHERED ON FLICKR/CREATIVE COMMONS

From the moment the bill that would rewrite Massachusetts’ new marijuana law—which would jack up taxes on the drug and give town boards broad authority to ban pot businesses—was revealed, it was panned by critics who said it would undermine voters and allow the black market to flourish.

And now, after criticism from pot activists and key lawmakers alike, the effort to get the bill passed has stalled. Speaker Bob DeLeo said Wednesday evening that a planned House vote on the bill has been called off.

“There are certain things that we have to clear up and so because of that I think it’s important that with a bill of this magnitude that we try to get it right or as close to right the first time,” DeLeo told reporters, according to the State House News Service, “and so I’d rather do that than rush it or try to rush it through tomorrow.”

Generally speaking, though, DeLeo said he “thought it was a good bill.”

Part of the issue is the way marijuana would be taxed. The bill calls for pot sold in stores to be taxed at a rate of 28 percent, which is more than double the maximum 12 percent tax the current law allows. But there’s a problem: The law as written would require that the drug be taxed not only at pot shops, but when retailers buy cannabis from growers. That means by the time someone purchases it at a retail store, they could be paying a tax rate of 55 percent or more.

But in the meantime, as noted by Jim Borghesani, the former spokesman for the Yes on 4 ballot campaign, there is now time to go back and make changes to the overhaul of a law passed by 1.8 million voters. It will also be open to amendments when it comes up for debate. “If we see a better bill come out because of this action from the speaker, we’ll be happy,” Borghesani says.

Among critics of the bill is Sen. Patricia Jehlen, who is Senate chair of the Marijuana Policy Committee. She says it “directly assaults the will of the voters and is a prescription for increasing the illicit market” and that she’d prefer Beacon Hill left the law alone over adopting the House’s version as it stands. The Senate hasn’t produced a bill of its own yet.

Lawmakers say they want to get a marijuana law overhaul passed by the end of the month.