Beacon Hill Marijuana Talks Drag On
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Sen. Will Brownsberger shrugged Monday when asked if marijuana legislation negotiators are working off a new deadline.
Asked if he expected a deal to be reached this week, he said, "Saying anything like that is dangerous."
Conferees hoped to agree on an overhaul of the marijuana legalization ballot law by June 30, but 10 days after that deadline they remain in talks over House and Senate bills with different approaches to taxation, governance and local control over retail marijuana locations.
Their meetings are private and they refuse to discuss sticking points.
The News Service caught up with the chief negotiator on the House side, Rep. Ronald Mariano of Quincy, on his way into House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office after the six-member conference committee took a break from their latest meeting.
"I don't know. I don't know. It's not going to be easy," Mariano said when asked if a bill would be ready this week.
The conferees met for about an hour and a half Monday afternoon before dispersing for a break. Lead Senate negotiator Sen. Patricia Jehlen said they planned to return later in the day to do "a little more drafting."
Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, and Wrentham Republican Sen. Richard Ross each told the News Service they did not believe negotiators would strike an accord Monday.
"I don't expect we'll have anything ready for tomorrow," Ross said.
The Senate scheduled a formal session for Tuesday, a move Jehlen characterized as a sign of hope. However, the House, which any accord must clear first, has only an informal session scheduled for Tuesday, the type of session where a vote on any marijuana accord would not be taken.
The House has left Wednesday open for a tentative formal session and could take up a bill then if a compromise is reached.
The conference committee did not meet over the weekend and gathered last on Friday after a roughly 48-hour hiatus amid growing concern that the budget and marijuana negotiations had become intertwined.
Brownsberger on Monday declined to commit to reaching a compromise by the end of the week.
"We're working hard," he told reporters around 2 p.m. as he entered the lawmakers-only area where the conference committee was slated to meet.
Lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker in December delayed by six months the implementation of the ballot law legalizing adult use of marijuana to allow time to draft changes to it. The initial June 30 deadline was set to ensure the Cannabis Control Commission created under the ballot law had time to get up and running before retail marijuana stores are set to open in July 2018.
--Katie Lannan, with Colin A. Young contributing, State House News Service