State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg says preparations for marijuana ballot question ongoing
PITTSFIELD — In town to talk Taconic High School, state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg had a different kind of green in mind during a recent editorial board meeting at The Eagle.
Goldberg, who would oversee regulation of the state's recreational marijuana industry if voters approve a ballot measure this fall, said, "I'm operating with the assumption it's happening."
Citing favorable polls, Goldberg said, "We're doing everything for our side to be prepared. I let the governor know last week: These are all the departments that will need to be involved. The evaluation of the THC in the products, the labeling of the products, the bar codes of the products — right there, three different departments in state government that have to be coordinated."
She added, "He said, 'This is going to require money.' I said, 'Yes, that's one of the issues.' And we don't see any income whatsoever until the first license is given."
Another problem: The legal pot issue has basically been tossed on Goldberg's department alone when, in reality, "a minimum of five or six areas of executive function in state government have to be coordinated in order to get up and running."
"Thinking about the number of departments that need to not only become engaged, but haven't even thought about it, because other people in state government are opposed, puts a lot of time pressure on us as the ultimate regulator. We're concerned that we're not going to be able to get them to be responsive."
According to the ballot question, the first licenses would go out in January 2018 — which Goldberg fears is too soon to set up a proper regulatory apparatus.
Colorado and Washington, Goldberg said, had budgets and more robust regulations in place prior to legalization and bigger staffs on the ground to regulate products and sales.
The treasurer supported decriminalization and voted for legalization of medical marijuana in 2012, but opposes the ballot question.
"I don't think something that is this enormous is necessarily well-suited for a ballot question," she said.
The ballot question, put forth by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Massachusetts, would legalize use and possession of marijuana by those 21 and older in December, retail sales following the issuance of licenses in January 2018.
Nonetheless, Goldberg said she's not going to let her personal view get in the way of doing the job right, if it must be done. She recently sent her general counsel and director of policy and legislative affairs on interesting field trips to Colorado and Washington. They came away thinking Washington had done a better job.
If it passes, Goldberg said she hopes to buy time — to back off the January 2018 date to begin issuing licenses to sellers — in order to set the stage a little more like Washington.
"I'm preparing for this, and then hoping that we can negotiate a way to do this properly," she said. "[In both Colorado and Washington] there was a budget ahead of time in order to fund the wide range of things you need to get done before you can even go online. This ballot question does not have that."
She added, "We can't do this wrong."
Other concerns Goldberg named were ensuring edibles packaging made the products "look like what they are," not candy, finding ways to address the problem of out-of-state persons buying Massachusetts marijuana in bulk then selling it in other states, impaired drivers and access to the drug by children.
Goldberg hit on a number of other topics during the meeting, offering her resounding support for pay equity for women and minorities — and what her office is doing to help bring it along — and for a $15 minimum wage.
Many businesses don't consider the extra revenue they stand to gain if low-income workers have more money in their pockets, she said, instead only looking at the revenue they lose to the higher wages.
Goldberg even weighed in on the recent sale of The Berkshire Eagle to local investors, stressing the importance of journalism to any functioning democracy.
"If the sale supports The Eagle, so it can continue to do what is so necessary, that is a good thing," she said. "I worry a great deal about the newspaper business. I hope this new ownership is going to help [The Eagle] survive."
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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