The top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts Monday offered no assurances that he will take a hands-off approach to legalized pot.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement he would not offer blanket immunity to “participants in the state-level marijuana trade.”
The statement came in response to a request from supporters of the state’s marijuana law for clarification of the federal prosecutor’s intentions after Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week rescinded a Justice Department policy of basically non-interference with state-legalized marijuana businesses.
Dick Evans, a Northampton attorney who campaigned for decades to legalize marijuana in Massachusetts does not believe a federal crackdown on the burgeoning industry is coming.
“The U.S. Attorney can try to throw a monkey wrench into the system we are developing, but it remains to be seen if state authorities will go along with him and I don’t think they will,” said Evans.
Republican Governor Charlie Baker and Democratic State Attorney General Maura Healey, who both opposed the ballot measure legalizing marijuana, condemned the move by Sessions saying it undermined state regulatory efforts.
With final state regulations not expected until mid-March, Springfield officials are considering a moratorium on non-medical marijuana facilities that could keep pot stores out of the region’s largest city for up to a year.
The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to recommend a moratorium. The City Council will take it up at a public hearing on January 22nd. The council previously approved a moratorium, but it expired last August.
A moratorium would give the city time to evaluate the regulations the state is writing to implement the new marijuana law, according to Philip Dromey, the city’s deputy director of planning.
"The main concern the city has is that we are still waiting on finalized regulations from the state," said Dromey.
The final state regulations are due in mid-March and applications for state licenses to sell marijuana are to become available on April 1st.
Dromey said without a moratorium the city will not have much time to address complex issues involving zoning and permitting for the new marijuana establishments.
" One of the larger questions is what zones is the city going to allow these in," said Dromey.
Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana for use by adults in 2016, but the legislature stepped in to re-write parts of the law and delayed the start of retail sales for six months until regulations are written.
Dromey said the proposed moratorium is in no way intended to stall the opening of pot shops in Springfield.
"Our goal is to get the regulations done as quick as we can once those state regulations are finalized," Dromey said.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has approved 105 pages of proposed regulations for the burgeoning marijuana industry.
Commission Chairman Stephen Hoffman said the draft regulations reflect the will of the voters who legalized marijuana for adult use.
Springfield also adopted a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and last year approved a permit for one to operate in an industrial area on the city’s east side. The facility is expected open later this year.