an interview with the co-chair of the joint committee on marijuana

 

An interview with Sen. Pat Jehlen, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy

 

State Sen. Patricia Jehlen, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, gave a harsh reception to the truly awful House bill introduced last week which aims to mangle legal cannabis in Mass. The legislation, which was sponsored by the other chair of that committee, Rep. Mark Cusack, would have overturned the will of voters by, among other things, more than doubling the marijuana tax passed in November.

 

I had the opportunity over the weekend to interview Sen. Jehlen, whose Senate introduced its own more palatable bill last Friday, on my WEMF Radio show, “The Young Jurks.” She noted that she didn’t want to speak about the House bill specifically, and mostly stuck by that, but it wasn’t hard to sense her serious disagreement with the moves and gestures made by her less enlightened colleagues.

 

While vocally opposed to a cannabis tax hike, Jehlen seemed to have some sympathy for the House’s attempted 28 percent grab, since the commonwealth can use the money. In any case, despite all that she stressed that she will not be joining MassCann/NORML’s Kill the Bill event on Beacon Hill on Wednesday, when the House is expected to vote on a rewrite of the aforementioned mess.

 

Notably, Jehlen made it clear that she will not ultimately budge on the tax issue, and will focus on the benefits of leaving the law as it currently stands (which the Senate bill that Yes on 4/Regulate Mass plans to endorse today ultimately does). She says that providing access and competitive pricing are the only ways to decrease reliance on the black market, and that in order to help make that happen, voters need to call their elected officials.

 

As Jehlen’s committee meets in executive session this morning, and as the House and Senate have approximately two weeks to figure this out once and for all, here are some excerpts from our interview, which can be found in its entirety on “The Young Jurks” Facebook page …

 

On the expense of administering a medical marijuana program …

Jehlen cited an expected $50 million in taxes in just the first year, with administration costs maxing out at about $10 million. She also said that the entire program would be more than profitable without the House’s proposed tax hike. All of which bodes well considering what Gov. Charlie Baker recently said: “I’ve said all along I think the tax ought to be whatever it takes to fund the cost of administering and overseeing the law, and no more.”

 

On whether a 10 percent tax could cover regulation costs …

“Yes.”

 

On whether she was shocked that House Speaker Bob DeLeo hit the brakes on the garbage omnibus bill proposed last week …
“I think it’s a good idea to always be ready to be surprised.”

 

On the Senate bill that she is filing …

“It’s a little complex, we have a very short time frame … we have two weeks to to pass a bill in the House and Senate and get differences resolved in a conference committee, to get it to the governor to get him to sign it, a very short time frame … I filed a bill so the public could see what I as chair would be recommending, and this is what will go to the floor of the Senate. It will also give senators the opportunity to offer amendments.”

 

On conquering the black market through legislation …

“The question is: How fast can we move people from the illicit market to the legal market, and that really depends on access and taxes, so those are the two things that are important to me.”

 

On whether hemp should be regulated even less than she’s proposed, especially considering that the federal government has given the green light for it to be treated like tomatoes …

“I’d be happy to hear more about that. The section on hemp was written by senators from agriculture areas and we want to protect those farmers from the federal government among other things … Small farmers in this state and across the country, a lot of them are struggling and they see a new product they might be able to sell. Hemp in particular is not controversial, [so] they are hopeful they will be able to participate in this market and provide.”

 

On why voters should support the Senate bill (as opposed to the House bill) …

“My principles were: 1—To respect the will of the voters and; 2—To drive people [away] from the illegal market [and] into the legal market and; 3—To see what we can do to remedy the damage done to communities by the war on drugs …

 

Our bill does not change the local approval of a ban. The voters voted that they would like the opportunity if there is to be a [town/city] ban [of recreational sales], that they get to vote on it, not a legislative body …

 

This week,  [legislators] need to hear from people, and don’t just send form emails please, actually call, speak to the staff probably and let them know why it’s important to follow the will of the voters and not just to keep it legal but to provide access, a legal supply, otherwise people will drive to Maine or go to a street corner …

 

If you want to kill the black market you have to provide quality product and a price that doesn’t have a high premium. People will pay a small premium for a legal product, but that’s it.”

 

 

BONUS: LISTENER-SUBMITTED QUESTIONS

 

Is it legal for a Senator to use cannabis?

“We’re human beings like everybody else.”

 

How do we avoid regulatory capture of the legal cannabis market in Mass, such as dispensaries/lobbyists gaming the system against consumers and growers?

“I think the way both the Senate and House bills attempt to avoid regulatory capture is to have three sets of eyes on it. The treasurer appoints the chair, the governor and attorney general would appoint other members on the Cannabis Commission, whereas in the original Cannabis Commission all three were to be appointed by the treasurer, which we feared could lead to regulatory capture. And vigilance is the price of democracy.”

 

Additionally, Jehlen’s Senate bill proposes to remove the six-month head start for existing approved DPH medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational weed before the rest of the market, a provision that was part of the voter-approved legal initiative. This change would open the market to all applicants six months earlier than expected with no head start granted to the existing medical marijuana players.

MIKE CRAWFORD

MIKE CRAWFORD

Mike Crawford is a medical marijuana patient, the host of “The Young Jurks” on WEMF Radio, and the author of the weekly column The Tokin’ Truth, which is produced in coordination with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He formerly wrote the column Blunt Truth under the name Mike Cann.

MIKE CRAWFORD

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