Members of a six-member bicameral conference committee met yesterday in an effort to reconcile dueling versions Senate Bill 54, which regulates the commercial production and retail sales of marijuana to adults. Senate members passed an initial version of the bill in 2019, while House members passed an amended version of the measure in February. A special conference committee was assigned in March to address the differences between the bills, but it had not held its initial meeting until this week.
In 2018, lawmakers approved legislation legalizing the personal possession and private cultivation of marijuana by those ages 21 and older. However, that law did not establish a structure for the retail production and sale of marijuana. The pending legislation establishes rules and regulations governing a statewide commercial cannabis industry. The measure provides regulations for licensed producers and retailers, establishes tax rates on retail sales of cannabis products, and sets potency caps on specific products, such as concentrates.
Key differences between the two measures include a House provision that would permit police officers to make a traffic stop if a driver is not wearing his/her seatbelt. That language is strongly opposed by members of the Senate. Committee members are also debating whether individual towns and municipalities that wish to do so should be able to opt out of the law. Lawmakers are also divided on whether or not law enforcement should be able to engage in the provisional use of saliva tests for drivers suspected of being under the influence.
Lawmakers will meet again in conference on Monday to further debate the issue, and additional meetings are expected to be held after that. Commenting on the bill’s progress, Matt Simon, New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment: “It is encouraging to see that the legislators on this committee appear to understand the importance of moving forward with S. 54. Based on what we heard today, it sounds like there’s a good chance the committee will agree on final details by the end of this month.”