Marijuana legalization doesn’t have to be hard. It also doesn’t have to be undermined in secret.
But, as the farce unfolding in Massachusetts proves, unwilling or outright hostile lawmakers can absolutely turn a simple process into a drawn-out drama—and they can also act like an Illuminati cabal and deliberately circumvent the will of the voters. And do it behind closed doors, because why not? Transparency is overrated.
As marijuana retail outlets in Nevada—which legalized cannabis at exactly the same time as Massachusetts, where voters approved a remarkably similar ballot initiative—prepare to record the first legal sale of recreational cannabis on Saturday, Massachusetts lawmakers are once again rewriting the basic tenets of the ballot initiative.
But this time, they’re doing so in a closed-door session, in which members of the public and the news media were ejected, which began Monday.
To the advocate or activist concerned with the democratic process, this is only the latest affront in a series of slights that began almost the very moment legalization was approved.
Within months, in a rare special session, lawmakers pushed the deadline for retail dispensaries to open back six months—with a clear message that there could be further delays.
State lawmakers have also elected to almost double the voter-approved tax on marijuana, and also took for themselves regulatory power—including the ability to ban cannabis activity outright—that the ballot initiative delegated to a popular vote.
That’s not great, but much better than the plan cooked up by the State House to outright repeal the voter-approved legalization bill and replace it with something else.
In the age of the Republican-controlled Congress’s version of “repeal and replace,” that was enough to compel the Marijuana Policy Project to urge Massachusetts voters to flood their representatives’ offices with calls.
To the casual observer—like some of the 1.8 million voters who wanted to be able to buy weed at a licensed store and pay taxes on the transaction—the need for secrecy isn’t immediately clear. For the Boston Globe, the cloistered process is an eyebrow-raiser.
“Hashing out differences between House and Senate bills in secret has long been the norm at the State House,” the newspaper observed. “But keeping deliberations about how to rewrite a voter-passed law hidden is notable, even by Beacon Hill’s opaque standards.
It’s worth pointing out that Massachusetts’s political establishment, which is now in charge of rewriting the state’s marijuana law, absolutely hates marijuana legalization.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was one of the chief opponents of the voter-approved measure, and Governor Charlie Baker, who will be responsible for signing whatever the cannabis klatch comes up with into law, campaigned against the measure, on the flimsy argument that legalization would be a drain on state resources.
Baker is also the gem of a man who said that legalization should be implemented “briskly,” before approving a plan—which also had no public vetting—to delay the opening of recreational marijuana stores in Massachusetts from January 2018 to July, and then complained that legal pot was stuck in a “no man’s land.”
This is entirely consistent with the precedent set in other states, where lawmakers have proven unwilling or unable to approve pro-marijuana legislation, despite solid public support.
Among the six lawmakers who have taken it upon themselves to redo the voters’ work for them are at least three who either campaigned against the measure or are close political confidantes of staunch legalization opponents, the Globe reported.
Whatever will they come up with, before a self-imposed deadline to present the new scheme to Baker by Friday? That’s for them to know and for us to find out, the hard way.