Could Massachusetts pot plans stall in legislature?

Marijuana

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – All eyes are on the Massachusetts legislature as the clock is ticking to regulate marijuana before cannabis shops are slated to open in 2018.

Peter Ubertaccio, a professor of political science at Stonehill College, said while Bay State voters approved the referendum 54 percent to 46 percent on Election Day, lawmakers may be slow to meet that 2018 deadline, though legalization itself takes effect next month.

“The regulatory apparatus doesn’t yet exist and it’s in the hands of lawmakers who are almost uniformly opposed to this initiative,” Ubertaccio said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Lawmakers won’t necessarily feel the pressure from the referendum because there isn’t much political risk in missing the deadline, according to Ubertaccio.

“So very few of them are ever challenged for election,” he said.

Under the referendum approved this month, marijuana will be legal for recreational use in the Commonwealth on Dec. 15, while shops can open in January 2018.

In Rhode Island, some marijuana advocates are calling for the Ocean State to move quickly and legalize the drug before Massachusetts gets its systems up and running.

Gov. Gina Raimondo doesn’t agree.

“On this one I’d rather get it right than go fast,” Raimondo told reporters earlier this week. “I will say we’re going to look at it [and] I expect we will take it up with the legislature, but better safe than sorry.”

Leaders in both the Rhode Island House and Senate have said they expect to explore the issue early in 2017.

Attorney Preston Halperin, who represents people involved in the marijuana industry, said Rhode Island is clearly taking a careful approach to the possibility of embracing legal pot, but argued there is an “enormous opportunity” for the state if it does so.

“Rhode Island really does need something to jump start the economy,” Halperin said. “It’s hard to for me to imagine this industry wouldn’t be a profitable one for the state.”

Halperin acknowledged there are still thorny issues because the federal government continues to list marijuana as an illegal drug.

“It presents a problem because you can’t cross state lines, it presents a banking problem,” Halperin said. “It is a problem, not just where do [marijuana businesses] put the money, but there is no financing available to get these businesses off the ground.”

But Halperin said some states may be able to take advantage of the disparity with the feds.

“If this were now legal across the country, would the opportunity exist to establish all these local businesses in Rhode Island, or would the large companies be setting up some enormous growth facilities somewhere in the Midwest and we would simply be purchasing product?” he said.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook