Pot legalization would take until 2019 to implement, official says
BOSTON >> If Massachusetts voters in November approve a ballot law legalizing marijuana for general adult usage, the law's implementation date should be pushed back a year until 2019, according to the state official charged with implementation under the initiative petition.
During an interview, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office oversees the state Lottery and alcoholic beverages industry regulation, called the January 2018 implementation date written into the marijuana ballot question "quite short."
"I would think that we would need at least two years to get going," said Goldberg. When asked if that meant 2019, Goldberg said, "That's basically what I'm saying."
The initiative petition, which likely will be voted upon in just over four months, would allow adults 21 and over in Massachusetts to use marijuana recreationally and sets up a regulatory structure. The proposal calls for the creation of a Cannabis Control Commission featuring three appointees named by Goldberg.
The measure states that the commission shall promulgate rules by Sept. 15, 2017, and if it fails to do so then medical marijuana dispensaries may begin on Jan. 1, 2018 to cultivate, package and sell marijuana to adults 21 and over.
Goldberg personally opposes the ballot question and plans to vote against its passage. But noting extensive problems with implementation of the state's medical marijuana law by the Department of Public Health, Goldberg said that if recreational usage of marijuana is approved "we're going to do this right."
Regulators in Massachusetts will need time to establish a budget for marijuana industry regulators, Goldberg said, and to set up systems to ensure proper oversight.
The Brookline Democrat has been preparing for the question's potential passage. In April, she sent her general counsel Sarah Kim and director of policy and legislative affairs Shawn Collins to spend a week in states where recreational marijuana is legal — Colorado and Washington — and learn about "best practices." According to a Goldberg aide, they met with state regulators and city officials, and toured a growing facility, a lab and a retail location.
The aides returned struck by the number of state and federal agencies involved with implementation and concerned about the packaging of marijuana edibles in Colorado, where pot-infused edibles are presented as brownies, gummy bears and "pot tarts," Goldberg said.
In Washington, the treasurer said, regulators insisted on packaging that clearly distinguishes marijuana edibles from food products and focused on tracking products and the amounts of THC in marijuana edibles.
"What that has done in Washington is cut down on the numbers of edibles that are sold. But that's probably a good thing because think overall the issues around edibles are quite enormous," Goldberg said.
The ballot question, backed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, models its Cannabis Control Commission after the existing Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, a licensing agency within the treasurer's office. In May, Goldberg said she expects existing ABCC models, such as a new electronic licensing initiative, could be adapted to accommodate the marijuana industry if the question passes.
"Instead of licensing restaurants, liquor stores and brewers, for instance, a modified system would account for licensed marijuana retailers, growers, and manufacturers," the treasurer said in May. "Thankfully, we will be able to learn from the ABCC's experience."
Asked about Goldberg's hope for a delay in the ballot law's implementation, should it pass, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokeswoman Francy Wade said in a statement: "The most important thing is that voters understand the importance of legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana by voting yes on the ballot this November. The current dysfunctional system leaves potential revenue on the table and it perpetuates a long-standing social injustice."