Where is the Bill?

We are more than two weeks now since the passage of the House and Senate’s competing legislation overhauling the framework regulation and taxation of adult use cannabis adopted by Massachusetts voters in November. In general, the Senate hewed closer to the language and intent of the referendum, while the House repealed the voter-passed law in its entirety in favor of a total rewrite.  Then three legislators from each chamber were swiftly appointed to a conference committee to reconcile the two competing bills into final legislation.  Legislative leadership imposed an internal June 30 deadline to get a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker. Yet here are.

The media has covered the acrimony between the House and Senate conferees ad nauseam. The sticking points appear to be well known, with the major impasse over whether the elected bodies of a municipality may ban adult sales and/or cultivation, or whether any such prohibition must occur by town- or citywide referendum.  I want to focus on another point: the June 30 deadline was ostensibly imposed to ensure the newly created Cannabis Control Commission time to make hires, find office space, draft a host of statutorily prescribed regulations, not the least of which will govern the licensing process, and accept applications before April 1, 2018.  That is after the appointing authorities select its members.  The days are getting shorter and April is on the horizon.

Under the referendum, which until repeal or amendment, is still good law, the Treasurer is to appoint the CCC and get going. The problem is the Legislature has made no appropriation for this work to begin.  Recently, the Treasurer told State House News that she cannot kick-start the Commission without an appropriation (even were she inclined to do so).

There is one last hammer that can fall. Section 6 of the referendum includes a “trigger” allowing RMDs to sell to the adult use market in the event of such an impasse.  The language is: “If the cannabis control commission fails to adopt regulations necessary for the implementation of this chapter on or before July 1, 2018, each medical marijuana treatment center may begin to possess, cultivate, process, manufacture, package, purchase or otherwise obtain and test marijuana and marijuana products and may deliver, sell or otherwise transfer marijuana to any person who is at least 21 years of age until the commission adopts the regulations necessary for implementation of this chapter and begins to issue licenses to operate marijuana establishments . . . .”

This language did not make it into either the proposed House or Senate bills now being debated in conference.  So, it’s a safe bet it won’t make it into any final bill, but the question remains, when will we get that bill? If we never do, will the referendum’s trigger be pulled? Will we get a bill, only to have licensing delayed again? One thing is looking clearer: April 1, 2018 is coming and we are nowhere closer to licensing adult use businesses.

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