On Wednesday June 21, 2017, I joined a majority of the House or Representatives to pass legislation that implemented the referendum passed by voters legalizing recreational marijuana. I did cosponsor amendments that were ultimately unsuccessful to: (1) bring the overall tax rate down (while maintaining the higher local option tax), (2) allow for the expungement of records for those with use-related offenses, and (3) to restore the process for citizens to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in their city/town.
We were successful in passing a number of amendments related to industrial hemp agriculture, empowering the growth of women and minority-owned businesses within the industry, creating a pathway for craft cultivators, protections for parents of minor children, and dedicated at least $50 million of the revenue to prevention education and substance use treatment.
This legislation maintains the personal use provisions outlined in the 2016 ballot initiative. Adults 21 and older can use marijuana and can possess up to one ounce in public and ten ounces at home. They may possess six plants per person but no more than 12 plants or ten ounces per residence. It also increases the local option to 5%, so that cities and towns can raise additional revenue from sales within their borders.
Although the final bill did not include all of the amendments I had supported, I ultimately decided to vote for the amendment package and move the process forward to the Conference Committee so that the legislation can be finalized and retail sales can begin next year.
Here’s a quick overview of the bill passed in Massachusetts:
To promote strong oversight and accountability for the regulation of adult-use marijuana, this legislation creates an independent five-member Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) which will be housed under the Office of the State Treasurer. The CCC will be charged with overseeing the application and licensing process, including a review of the integrity of licensees, their financial stability and qualifications both during the application process and on an ongoing basis. It will promulgate regulations for the implementation, administration and enforcement of adult-use marijuana, and will make regular inspections of licensees.
The CCC will adopt diversity licensing goals to provide meaningful participation of communities disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition and enforcement and development training programs to achieve impactful industry participation by minority individuals, women and veterans.
The House has prioritized consumer safety and public health. As such, this bill includes the strongest testing standards in the nation and gives the CCC oversight of testing laboratories. It requires all labs to be independent from Registered Marijuana Dispensaries (RMD) and mandates alignment with pharmacy standards for purity.
Under this legislation, the CCC will consult with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to establish standards for the cultivation, processing, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, including guidelines for food products.
The CCC will also establish standards for packaging, potency or dosing limitations, seed to sale-technology and security for cannabis licensees. Requirements include:
The overall tax rate of 28 percent includes:
Revenue collected from these taxes and application fees (with the exception of the local tax) will go to the newly-created Cannabis Revenue Fund. After funding annual operating costs associated with the adult-use marijuana industry, $50 million from the Fund will be expended annually on substance addiction and prevention programs.
To enhance efficiency and allow for the creation of local bylaws and ordinances, this legislation bolsters local control measures. The governing body of a municipality will be able to vote to prohibit recreational marijuana establishments. Municipalities that have already held referendums will be grandfathered in.
Under this legislation, the medical marijuana program would be updated and brought under the auspices of the CCC. This consolidation will help ensure a timely launch by streamlining oversight and leveraging existing experience and resources.
For the first time, industrial hemp will be statutorily recognized as an agricultural product that may be cultivated, possessed, processed, bought or sold, and researched. MDAR will oversee industrial hemp as an agricultural product. Any person growing industrial hemp must be licensed by MDAR.
Originally published in: http://www.leominsterchamp.com/articles/six-months-in-whats-natalie-been-up-to/
It’s June and I’m wrapping up my first quarter of my two-year term. Many people have asked me what a typical day looks like for a State Representative, but that’s a tough question to answer. Between constituent calls, events, the state budget, and legislation — every day is different but they are all quite packed!
First, I hope many of you have gotten a chance to meet my Legislative Aide, Taylor Landry. She’s born and raised in Leominster, the daughter of teachers, and I think we make quite a team! We’ve set up our District Office in the Gallagher Building (24 Church Street, Room 29), and would love to have you visit with us in our new office. Just call us at 978-227- 5278 to set up an appointment.
Thanks to the folks at Leominster Access TV, I have filmed three episodes of “Representing Leominster,” with local leaders from Leominster and across the State, airing on the Local Government Channel (Comcast 99/Verizon 33).
As promised during my campaign, I hold office hours twice a week. Monday evenings from 5:30-7 p.m. I can be found in Room 204 at the Leominster Public Library. Our Friday morning hours from 7-8 a.m. have gone through a bit of a transition, trying to find the right location. Starting on June 30, I’ll be at my District Office (24 Church Street, Room 29), until school starts back up again. At that point I will be moving back to the Leominster High School Media Center, which was suggested by an AP Government class and has had great attendance.
This summer, I’ll be hosting “Community Conversations” at the Leominster Public Library from 7-8:30 p.m. on some of the topics that our office has fielded the most questions/ideas about: Tuesday August 22 — Education; Wednesday August 23 — The Economy; Wednesday August 30 — The Environment; Thursday August 31 — Healthcare.
I am looking for passionate advocates in these areas to help me pull together these Conversations. I would love to hear from you if you have ideas on subtopics. Please connect with me at Natalie.Higgins@mahouse.gov or 978-227-5278.
Representing Leominster: Episode 3: Rep. Higgins Speaks with City Councilor James Lanciani & Rep. Kim Ferguson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Natalie Higgins, 978-602-3772
House Passes “An Act for Language Opportunity for Our Kids”
Provides school districts across the Commonwealth with flexibility regarding English learner programs
(BOSTON) – Representative Natalie Higgins joined her colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass legislation that will enable districts to implement alternative English language learner (ELL) programs. Understanding that Massachusetts’ ELL population is incredibly diverse, the proposed change will allow for more flexibility so that districts can tailor programs to better meet the specific needs of their ELL population.
“English language learners are the fastest growing student population in the state and we need to do more to support these students,” said Higgins. While academic achievement has improved for other minority populations, significant achievement gaps persist for ELL students. This legislation seeks to remedy that discrepancy.
“Every student has unique needs, and it is our obligation to foster an environment where they are afforded an education tailored to them,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “Massachusetts education system is the best in the nation, and I believe that this legislation will enhance our standing while ensuring that education is indeed, the great equalizer.”
“This bill, at its core, is about allowing districts to exercise the flexibility in programming necessary to best serve their English learner populations – a student group that is not only increasing in numbers but is also very dynamic with a wide range of needs,” said Representative Peisch (D-Wellesley), Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I am grateful to Speaker DeLeo and Chairman Dempsey for their leadership on this critical issue and applaud the House for passing this bill.”
“Every student learns differently and it is impossible for the ELL students of the Commonwealth to succeed with a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez (D-Jamaica Plain), sponsor of the bill. “Through flexibility and accountability measures, the LOOK bill creates a system where students are equipped with the tools necessary to not only learn English, but succeed academically and positively contribute to our growing economy.”
To ensure accountability and effectiveness, the legislation establishes a 17-person commission to review the collection and dissemination of ELL data and make recommendations on improvements. It also enhances existing reporting requirements to ensure ELL students are making academic progress as a result of classroom programming.
In addition, this legislation further supports parental involvement for ELL families, requiring the establishment of English Learner Parent Advisory Councils in districts that serve more than 100 ELL students or in which English learners comprise more than five percent of the student population (whichever is fewer). It also expands the current waiver process to allow a school, on the recommendation of a teacher or guidance counselor, to obtain the waiver for the individual student.
The bill now goes to the Senate.