Treasurer: ‘No Idea’ If Pot Shops Can Open by July 2018
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, set to play a key role in the rollout of a legal marijuana industry in Massachusetts, said Tuesday she has "no idea" whether legal pot shops will be open by next July, as envisioned by policymakers.
Under the legal marijuana law approved by voters in November, the treasurer's office has been scheduled to lead the industry's regulation and the lead role is maintained, with some revisions, under a bill agreed to Monday by a legislative conference committee and marked for floor votes on Wednesday.
"We haven't even had a chance to read through the whole bill. I think we're at page 35 so we really need to absorb the whole thing," Goldberg told the News Service on Tuesday. She said, "The one thing that struck me in the first 35 pages were the timeframes."
Goldberg told the News Service she was not part of discussions about changes to the ballot law that voters passed in November. The legalization of adult possession and cultivation of marijuana went into effect in December, while regulated retail sale of marijuana is at least a year away from implementation.
Asked if marijuana sales would begin next July, as lawmakers have envisioned, Goldberg said, "I have no idea."
Last year's ballot law gave the treasurer sole authority for appointing all three members to a Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) to regulate the industry.
Under the pending legislation, the commission will consist of five people -- with one appointment going to each the governor, treasurer and attorney general, and two others appointed by a majority of those three -- and will be charged with the direct oversight of the budding industry. The bill requires Goldberg to appoint the commission's chairperson and requires the chair to have "experience in corporate management, finance or securities."
Once the CCC is up and running, it will have to "promulgate regulations, guidelines and protocols necessary for the issuance of (marijuana) licenses" no later than March 15, 2018 and begin accepting applications by April 1, 2018, according to the bill.
"We were not part of the process at all," the Brookline Democrat told the News Service on her way to an event in her office. She said, "I think we've been very open with all the reporters that have called us all the way along. They would call us and say, 'What do you know?' And we'd say, 'Nothing.' And that was an honest answer."
After closed-door negotiations extended well beyond a June 30 deadline for delivering a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker, lawmakers on a House-Senate conference committee on Monday agreed to compromise legislation ( H 3818), a 75-page bill, for overhauling the state's regulation of the marijuana industry.
Leaders of the House and Senate plan to advance the bill to Gov. Charlie Baker by Thursday. Baker will have 10 days to act on legislation.
The bill's deadline for appointing members to the Cannabis Advisory Board is Aug. 1. Goldberg - who is responsible for appointing five people to the advisory body - expressed some skepticism about her ability to accomplish that by the deadline.
After voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2012, advocates criticized the Department of Public Health for the process it set up to license medical marijuana dispensaries. The Baker administration subsequently overhauled that process and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel described the initial approach as a "confusing, overly lengthy application process with unclear expectations."
The bill would merge the public health department's regulation of medical marijuana into the CCC.
The treasurer said she had interviewed people for positions on the regulatory commission but they do not fit the parameters mandated by the legislation pertaining to experience in corporate management, finance or securities.
The Treasury was given authority over marijuana regulation because the office regulates liquor through the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, "not because we issue bonds," Goldberg said.
Another quirk of the bill is that the chairperson of the advisory board is the executive director of the CCC, who is hired by the CCC. The deadline for initial appointments to the CCC is Sept. 1 and initial appointments to the advisory board are due Aug. 1.
--Andy Metzger, State House News Service