In a move that has upset liberals, conservatives, tokers and teetotalers alike, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill yesterday delaying the opening of retail marijuana shops by six months.

As you may recall, this November, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot question legalizing marijuana. The ballot question made possession legal as of December 15, and gave the Commonwealth until January 1, 2018 to devise a regulatory structure governing retail sales. Thus, pot shops were set to open in 2018, thereby eliminating the legal grey-area that now exists, in which the possession of MJ is legal, but the sale of it is not.

You may also recall that the majority of the State Legislature and our Republican Governor were opposed to legalization. Nonetheless, when the ballot measure passed, the onus was on that very Legislature to implement the new law. Almost immediately after the ballot question passed, legislators began floating the idea of a delay; yesterday, in an extraordinary legislative maneuver, they passed a law accomplishing just that.

What makes the Legislature’s actions extraordinary is the manner in which the delay was passed. Currently, the Legislature is not sitting in formal session. Laws proposed during formal session require the vote of legislators; that is, each State Representative and State Senator must vote yay, nay or abstain. These votes are a matter of public record. In an informal session, laws can still be passed, but in a different manner. There proposed laws are passed unless an objection is lodged. That is, support for the measure must be unanimous. As a result of this procedure whereby one legislator can block passage of a bill, informal sessions are generally used for non-controversial measures, such as the honorary naming of bridges. Informal sessions are generally less well attended, and do not require a roll-call vote.

Yesterday, with just three Senators and three Representatives present, a bill was introduced to delay the implementation of the marijuana retail sales, pushing the date back six months until the summer of 2018. None of the six legislators present objected, so the bill was passed, and is now on the desk of the Governor, who has previously expressed support for a delay.

A broad spectrum of people are upset because the Legislature’s actions seem to repudiate the will of the people as expressed by their vote on the ballot question. Massachusetts voters had ample time to familiarize themselves with the proposal, which included detailed timelines, and a majority supported it. The ballot measure, as passed, gave the Commonwealth one year to establish the regulatory mechanism to oversee recreational sales.

By advancing the delaying legislation in informal session, legislators shielded themselves from having to vote on the matter on the record. If they had been forced to do so, they likely would have had to answer difficult questions from their constituents, namely why they supported a measure that contradicted the will of the people. Furthermore, since a single objection would have caused the delay bill to fail, its passage meant that not one of the 40 State Senators or 160 State Representatives had the courage to object. Given that Democrats dominate the Legislature (34 Senators and 126 Representatives to be exact), yesterday’s actions showed that not one was willing to buck the political consensus and stand with the people. Had one done so, the measure still could have been re-introduced in formal session come 2017.

Given the extremely slow roll out of medical marijuana in Massachusetts, perhaps this delay comes as no surprise. The legislative maneuver executed yesterday shows that our representatives are prepared to contradict the will of the people, but only if they are shielded from public scrutiny for so doing; in effect, its a damning indictment against all of those who remained silent.

So, we are in for at least six additional months of a legal grey-zone; dealers rejoice, tax revenue delayed, and voters across the political spectrum feeling usurped. A most unwelcome last minute surprise from Beacon Hill.