Massachusetts: Talks on Revamped Pot Bill Appear to Stall as Deadline Nears

BOSTON (AP) — House and Senate negotiators chased what appeared to be an increasingly elusive compromise over the state’s recreational marijuana law on Friday, a day that legislators had earlier pegged as a self-imposed deadline for reaching a deal.

A six-member conference committee shed little light on its discussions while meeting off and on behind closed doors with little apparent progress.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo adjourned the House until Monday, ruling out any possibility that a final vote could be held on Saturday.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, the chief House negotiator, said earlier in the day he remained “hopeful” for an agreement. His counterpart in the Senate, Democrat Patricia Jehlen, replied, “I can’t say that,” when asked if the conference committee was deadlocked.

Legislative leaders, along with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, had earlier expressed confidence that a compromise could be reached on a revamped recreational marijuana bill by the Friday deadline. While there was nothing to prevent negotiations from continuing past the deadline, the Legislature was heading into its Fourth of July holiday recess and pressure was building on state officials from marijuana-legalization advocates to begin steps to fully implement the current law approved by voters in November.

While lawmakers from both chambers had called for changes to the law that legalized adult use of recreational marijuana, the House and Senate took dramatically different approaches.

The House voted to repeal the law and replace it with a more expansive bill that bumped the tax rate on retail marijuana sales from a maximum 12 percent to a required 28 percent. The measure also gave local governing bodies, such as city councils and select boards, authority to ban pot shops from opening within their communities.

The Senate voted to keep the current law in place with more modest revisions. The Senate bill held the tax rate at 12 percent and kept the power to prohibit marijuana stores in the hands of voters.

Marijuana activists lashed out at the House bill, calling it an assault on the will of voters, while praising the Senate for its more restrained approach.

“As we’ve said all along, the legalization measure passed by 1.8 million voters requires no fixes,” said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the group that sponsored the November ballot question.

If no deal is struck, the voter-approved law would remain in effect. The law calls on state Treasurer Deb Goldberg to appoint a three-member Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the legal marijuana industry, but lawmakers have sought to expand the commission and make it more independent.

Absent an agreement Friday, Borghesani called on Baker to “uphold the voters’ will by immediately releasing funds necessary for the treasurer to begin forming the governing body of this important new industry.”

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