The Cannabis Control Commission promised in its mission statement “to encourage and enable full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”
That promise was evidently not on the minds of the three (of five) commission members who voted on Wednesday for the categorical exclusion from the new industry of any person with a trafficking conviction for any drug other than marijuana.
Their defenses of the new ban regrettably echoed a persistent myth about the war on drugs: that the only persons prosecuted and convicted of trafficking are drug kingpins with trunks full of contraband in their Cadillacs.
Commissioner Britte McBride asserted unconvincingly that trafficking “is different than simple possession, it’s different even than distribution. This is really talking about quantity and significant quantity…”
Her fellow Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan joined in: “I think there is a very large difference between someone who had been arrested for possession and someone who has been actively trafficking in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Let’s review. First, here’s a 19-gram packet of salad dressing mix.
This is one gram more than is necessary to bring a trafficking prosecution that carries a mandatory minimum state prison sentence.
Second, as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court has said, in a recent year more than half of the persons convicted in Massachusetts of drug distribution offenses and three-quarters of those convicted of drug trafficking offenses that carrying a mandatory minimum term are members of racial and ethnic minorities.
So how is it that again the categorical exclusion of persons convicted of trafficking will not undermine the goals of the mission statement? Dissenting Commissioners Steven Hoffman and Shaleen Title put up a good fight on this point, arguing that the ban was unnecessary and would create new obstacles for ex-prisoners instead of helping their reentry.
One marginally hopeful signal from Wednesday’s meeting was the comment of Commissioner Kay Doyle (who cast the deciding vote in favor of the ban) that she would be in favor of reviewing it as the industry develops.
It’s not too soon to start that review. If you’re going to today’s Marijuana Summit, take a minute to thank Commissioner Title for her vote against the ban. And if you have time to contact the Commission before its next meetings (March 6 and 7) to correct the misconceptions displayed in yesterday’s vote, please do. You might also suggest that the Commission invest in some copies of The New Jim Crow.
(Here’s a sample text you can borrow or modify: “Please do NOT categorically exclude persons who have trafficking convictions from participating in the new marijuana industry. It is ill-informed and directly contrary to the promise in your mission statement to ensure full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”)