Talks On Revamped Marijuana Bill To Resume After Missed Deadline

BOSTON (AP) — House and Senate negotiators hoping to hammer out a compromise over the state’s recreational marijuana law failed to meet a self-imposed deadline Friday aimed at getting a final bill to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk and plan to get back to negotiations next week.

A six-member conference committee shed little light on its discussions while meeting off and on behind closed doors with little apparent progress Friday.

A spokeswoman for Democrat Patricia Jehlen — the Senate’s chief negotiator — said late Friday conferees “are making good progress” and plan to continue negotiations on Wednesday, after the Fourth of July holiday.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo earlier adjourned the House until Monday.

Democratic Rep. Mark Cusack, the chief House negotiator, said earlier in the day he remained “hopeful” for an agreement. His counterpart in the Senate, Democrat Patricia Jehlen, replied, “I can’t say that,” when asked if the conference committee was deadlocked.

While lawmakers from both chambers had called for changes to the law that legalized adult use of recreational marijuana, the House and Senate took dramatically different approaches.

The House voted to repeal the law and replace it with a more expansive bill that bumped the tax rate on retail marijuana sales from a maximum 12 percent to a required 28 percent. The measure also gave local governing bodies, such as city councils and select boards, authority to ban pot shops from opening within their communities.

The Senate voted to keep the current law in place with more modest revisions. The Senate bill held the tax rate at 12 percent and kept the power to prohibit marijuana stores in the hands of voters.

Marijuana activists lashed out at the House bill, calling it an assault on the will of voters, while praising the Senate for its more restrained approach.

“As we’ve said all along, the legalization measure passed by 1.8 million voters requires no fixes,” said Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the group that sponsored the November ballot question.

If no deal is struck, the voter-approved law would remain in effect. The law calls on state Treasurer Deb Goldberg to appoint a three-member Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the legal marijuana industry, but lawmakers have sought to expand the commission and make it more independent.

Absent an agreement, Borghesani called on Baker to “uphold the voters’ will by immediately releasing funds necessary for the treasurer to begin forming the governing body of this important new industry.”

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