- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2016

While it’s now legal to possess or home-grow marijuana in Massachusetts — thanks to a ballot initiative passed by voters this year — residents are going to have to wait longer to legally purchase the drug.

Massachusetts lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation that will delay by six months the opening date for recreational marijuana stores to July 2018.

The surprise legislation emerged Wednesday morning and was adopted by both the House and Senate in under an hour during informal sessions, according to the Boston Globe.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, who presided over Wednesday’s session, has said in the past that more time was needed to fine-tune marijuana sales regulations before the opening of stores in January 2018, the start date originally laid out in the ballot initiative.

“The legislature has a responsibility to implement the will of the voters while also protecting public health and public safety. This short delay will allow the necessary time for the Legislature to work with stakeholders on improving the new law,” Mr. Rosenberg said in a statement Wednesday. “Luckily, we are in a position where we can learn from the experiences of other states to implement the most responsible recreational marijuana law in the country.”

The legislation, if signed by the governor, will not affect portions of the initiative that already took effect. On Dec. 15, it became legal in Massachusetts for a person over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public or up to 10 ounces of marijuana in the home. Residents are also able to grow up to six plants in their home.

Massachusetts is among four states that opted to legalize marijuana this year through ballot initiatives. The states will join Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and Washington, D.C., in making it legal to possess pot for recreational use.

Marijuana legalization advocates derided Massachusetts lawmakers’ action Wednesday to delay the opening of pot shops in the state, with one calling the move a slap in the face for the more than 1 million voters who supported the initiative.

“The arrogance and hubris lawmakers are showing toward voters is remarkable,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The voters have spoken and it is incumbent on legislators to carry out their will.”

While advocates cried foul over the delay in marijuana sales, it is not uncommon for states that have legalized marijuana to fall into a gray period during which marijuana is legal to have but there is no legal way to purchase it.

In Washington, D.C., where marijuana possession was legalized in 2014, local lawmakers are currently blocked by Congress from setting up a regulatory scheme for pot shops. As a result, it has remained legal to grow marijuana or “gift” it to others, but retail sales other than for medical marijuana remain outlawed.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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