Hours before a controversial rewrite of the voter-approved measure to legalize recreational cannabis in Massachusetts was scheduled for debate, state House leaders pulled the bill, citing a need to reconsider “procedural issues.” The rewritten bill, which would have more than doubled the tax on recreational pot sales and given local authorities more power to ban canna-businesses, drew immediate and extreme criticism when it was announced yesterday.
“It will not be taken up tomorrow,” Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “It’s important that, with a bill of this magnitude, that we try to get it right, or as close as right the first time. And so I’d rather do that than try to rush it through tomorrow.” The Speaker said that he hoped the House would be able to vote on a tweaked version of the bill next week, so that the final version could appear before Governor Charlie Baker by the end of the month.
Governor Baker said that he was unwilling to commit to the proposed tax rate of 28 percent, because he was uncertain whether that rate would be too high, or too low. “We can always change the tax rate. We can move the tax rate up, we can move the tax rate down,” he said. “What I’ve said all along is the tax needs to be high enough to cover the cost of administering and overseeing and regulating recreational marijuana in Massachusetts.”
In addition to the tax increase, legislators are hopeful that they can address other troubling issues with the new bill. Representative Russell E. Holmes, a member of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said that he hopes that language that he feels “is very heavy-handed to communities of color” can be changed before the bill is reintroduced. Holmes said that the bill’s creation of two new enforcement authorities could potentially “exacerbate the war on drugs just as you’re making marijuana legal.”
Advocates who criticized the bill applauded DeLeo's decision to revise the bill. “This was a poorly conceived and poorly drafted bill,” said Jim Borghesani of the Marijuana Policy Project. “If we see a better bill come out because of this action from the speaker, we’ll be happy.” Cannabis consultant Jonathan Napoli agreed, saying that the bill “was flawed in many ways,” and that the proposed tax rate “just has to come down.”