Senate to take ‘deep dive’ into marijuana policy


By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE — After two presidential cycles where activists and voters drove the state’s marijuana policy, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg wants to investigate state’s approach to regulating the leafy drug as activists are expected to push for legalization of it for recreational use in 2016.

Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, has been assigned to head up a Special Senate Committee on Marijuana, a new entity in the Legislature.

“The proponents for legalization are preparing to put a question on the ballot in 2016,” Rosenberg told Boston Herald Radio on Thursday. “So the point of this exercise is to do a very deep, interdisciplinary dive into the subject matter through public safety, public health, regulatory, revenue and other considerations.”

In 2008, voters passed a ballot referendum that decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, and in 2012 voters passed a new law establishing a medical marijuana program.

The Amherst Democrat said ballot referendums can’t accommodate for concerns that might be raised through the legislative process.

“Ballot questions are written by a small group of people with a narrow perspective. They’re an advocate for a particular point of view,” Rosenberg told co-hosts Hillary Chabot and Jaclyn Cashman. He said, “It’s an up or down vote. You can’t amend it. And then if it passes they say you can’t amend it in the Legislature because it’s the people’s law.”

Referring to the initiative that legalized marijuana for medical use, Rosenberg said, “The ballot question was so badly written.”

On Dec. 31, two years after the ballot initiative became law, the Department of Public Health issued the first certificate of registration to Alternative Therapies Group, which plans to open a dispensary in Salem and grow the pot crop in Amesbury.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who said he will “always” oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use, praised Rosenberg’s effort to investigate the issue, saying it is “one of the things I admire about Stan.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Baker said Colorado, where marijuana was legalized by voters in 2012, will serve as a “live experiment” and he plans to follow developments there.

After the Legislature declined to take up decriminalization and medical marijuana, activists placed the proposals before voters and saw victories at the ballot box. The decriminalization question passed with 1.9 million voters in favor to 1 million opposed, and the medical marijuana question passed 1.9 million to 1.1 million.

Among the issues that could come up in discussion of marijuana legalization, Rosenberg raised the legal age for use and said studies indicate brain development continues into a person’s 20s.

“If you are ingesting marijuana, according to many researchers, you are compromising the brain development, so what should be the legal age if marijuana is legalized in Massachusetts,” Rosenberg said.

Asked if he had ever smoked marijuana, the UMass Amherst graduate said, “Did I go to college in the ’60s?”