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December 28, 2016

Lawmakers vote to delay recreational marijuana

The Legislature on Wednesday passed a bill pushing out effective dates of several key milestones in the new marijuana law.

The process for licensing retail marijuana shops would be delayed by six months under legislation that surfaced first on Wednesday in the Senate before clearing both branches, the result of which could push the legal sale of marijuana, authorized by a successful ballot campaign this year, well into 2018.

The House and Senate on Wednesday morning during lightly attended informal sessions passed a bill pushing out the effective dates of several key milestones in the new law, including the dates by which the state will begin accepting applications and issuing licenses for retail pot shop licenses. The state, under the bill, would have until July 2018 to issue the first licenses for retail pot sales.

The move highlights a rare willingness among lawmakers to tinker with a law approved directly by voters.

The bill also directs the Baker Administration to contract for a study of marijuana use, including patterns of use and methods of consumption, incidents of impaired driving and marijuana-related hospitalizations and the economic impacts on the state.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who presided over Wednesday's session, said the bill would not impact any provisions of the new law that went into effect on Dec. 15, including the legalization of possession, use, gifting and home-growing of marijuana. House and Senate officials said the delay would give the Legislature more time to "improve the ballot question, take up issues not addressed by the ballot question and allow the state more time to implement the will of the voters."

"The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law," Rosenberg said in a statement. "Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country."

The bill must still be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker before becoming law. The legislation would give the forthcoming Cannabis Control Commission an extra six months until March 15, 2018 to develop initial regulations, and applications for testing facility licenses and for retail sales from established medical marijuana dispensaries would be delayed until April 1, 2018.

Treasurer Deborah Goldberg would also have until September, instead of March, to set up the new Cannabis Control Commission.

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