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Public Hearing Today In West Springfield On New Marijuana Law

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      A legislative committee that is considering changes to the voter approved law legalizing recreational marijuana in Massachusetts is holding a public hearing today in West Springfield.

    The Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy held its first meeting a week ago at the State House.  Testimony then was by invitation only from selected state officials, agency heads, and proponents of the marijuana law.  Today’s hearing that starts at 4:00 p.m. at West Springfield High School is the first chance for the public to weigh in.

      44 bills have been filed to amend the marijuana law, which took effect on December 15th.  The law allows adults to legally possess pot for personal use and to grow up 12 plants at home. It, however, delayed the start of commercial activity to give the state time to set up a new bureaucracy to regulate the burgeoning marijuana industry.

     State Senator James Welch, a member of the new committee, said the will of the voters will be honored.

   "There are things we need to adjust to make sure the program is safe from a public safety standpoint and from a public health standpoint," he said in an interview earlier this year.

   Already, the legislature has made one significant change by postponing when retail sales can begin to July 2018.  That’s a six month delay in the deadline spelled out in the law voters approved.  Many municipalities, including the city of Springfield, have adopted moratoriums on marijuana businesses to allow for time to change local zoning laws. 

  " There will be local control. Each community can make a decision based on what they feel is right for their community," said Welch.

      To license, regulate, and tax the marijuana industry on the state level the law calls for the creation of a Cannabis Control Commission appointed by the state treasurer. It is modeled after the board that has overseen the liquor industry in Massachusetts for decades. 

   Some of the bills before the legislature would change the makeup of the three-member commission and give one appointment to the governor and one to the attorney general. Another proposal would scrap the commission altogether and just put the marijuana industry under the jurisdiction of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

   Other bills propose restrictions on marijuana advertising and rules for packaging and labeling marijuana products. There is a proposal to reduce from 12 to six the number of marijuana plants that can be grown at any one time in a residence.

    Proponents of the marijuana law argued at last week’s State House hearing that all the proposed “fixes” are premature and not necessary.   Dick Evans, an attorney, and long time advocate for legalizing marijuana, says the legislature should step aside and let the law take effect as written.

   "We live in a democracy, and the will of the voters rules," said Evans. " It is incumbent upon our legislators to serve the will of the voters and that means respecting the new law ( the voters) adopted on Nov. 8th."

    Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city is keeping an eye out for attempts to skirt the marijuana law’s current prohibition on commercial activity.

     " This is a cash business. Federal banking authorities do not recognize it. People are unscrupulous at times," Sarno said.

     Earlier this month, the city issued a “cease and desist” order on a business called “Mary Jane Makes Your Heart Sing” that was operating in a small strip mall.   The city contends it was breaking the law by handing “free” samples of marijuana to people who paid a cover charge to enter the store.




Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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