Grow, Gift, Repair

Action at the State House!

2. Pot cafés
The Legislature’s cannabis committee, co-chaired by state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and state Representative David Rogers, advanced a bill last week that would allow local officials to approve social consumption businesses in their cities and towns without holding a community-wide referendum, as required under the current law. The bill now proceeds to the full Legislature.

The bill, from state Senator Julian Cyr, is necessary if the commission hopes to move forward with its social consumption pilot program. That’s because Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who helps oversee local elections, has said that the existing language requiring a referendum is legally unworkable.

3. Worker protections
A bill that would protect employees from being fired for using marijuana during their off hours remains stalled in the Legislature’s judiciary committee, which last week requested an extension of the deadline for issuing a recommendation on the measure until May 12.

The bill, introduced by state Senator Jason Lewis, would ban employers from summarily dismissing (or declining to hire) workers solely because they flunked a drug test for cannabis metabolites. Companies that rely on federal funding and workers who perform safety-critical roles, such as operating heavy equipment, would be exempt.

Current law gives employers wide latitude to fire workers for using marijuana, even if there’s no evidence the drug affected their performance or that they were impaired on the job. The reforms proposed by Lewis followed public outrage over several high-profile cases in which companies fired productive, well-liked employees for failing marijuana tests following workplace accidents.

The plan faces opposition from major business associations.

4. Host community agreements
A proposal by Rogers to crack down on municipal demands for large payments from marijuana operators in exchange for local approval has advanced farther than any other cannabis legislation this session, flying through the full House last week on a 121-33 vote. It now awaits action in the Senate.

The bill would give the state Cannabis Control Commission authority to regulate host community agreements, invalidating provisions in the contracts between operators and municipalities that violate legal limits on their value and length. It answers longstanding complaints from marijuana license applicants and advocates that cities and towns routinely seek excessive sums, slowing down the debut of pot shops and freezing local entrepreneurs with less money out of the recreational sector. The Massachusetts Municipal Association has strongly opposed the measure, arguing it encroaches on local authority.

One factor putting urgency behind the bill: An investigation by US Attorney Andrew Lelling into the pacts.

5. Expungement
While investors cash in on legal marijuana, some Massachusetts residents remain saddled with criminal records for possessing the drug when it was illegal, making it difficult to find work and housing.

While recent criminal justice reforms make it possible for some past marijuana crimes to be sealed, very few appear to have taken advantage of the cumbersome process for doing so.

A proposal by state Representative Chynah Tyler would have automatically expunged records of certain marijuana crimes, but the judiciary committee declined to advance it. However, the committee did approve another bill, from Lewis, that would allow residents to request expungement of those records. It would also require the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to conduct a public outreach campaign aimed at notifying eligible residents that they can clear their records.