Massachusetts was one of four states to legalize recreational cannabis at the ballot box Nov. 8, and some lawmakers are taking the cause of freedom even further. Sen. Jamie Eldridge is working to craft a bill that would free some of those in jail for cannabis possession and sales, as well as expunge their records.
“We’ve approved medical marijuana, decriminalization and now legalization. It shows that the voters don’t believe the people who possess or sell marijuana should be in jail,” said Eldridge."
He is working with the ACLU and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods (UMN) to have something in place for 2018, counting on the solid margin of public support for legalization to convince skeptical lawmakers.
“We have to look at releasing folks who are in jail for marijuana crimes that are no longer crimes,” said UMN executive director Horace Small. “It’s only fair now that the prohibition is over to retroactively erase these records. Sometime in the next month or two we’ll have a piece of legislation.”
Knowing there will be plenty of backlash from prohibitionists, Small says any prisoner releases would be on a case-by-case basis and will not include anyone with multiple drug offenses or linked to violence.
“This doesn’t apply to someone working for a cartel or something,” said Small. “We need to look at what’s realistic and what’s over the top — there are a lot of conversations that we need to have.”
Naturally, law enforcement is lashing out at the proposal, suggesting the interpretations of courts under old, now-negated laws should keep non-violent pot users locked in cages.
“It’s counterproductive and it undermines the judicial system,” said Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. “These lawmakers weren’t there for the facts of the case.”
Having lost the authority to continue the war on pot, Hodgson is counting on federal government to impose its will under the new Trump administration.
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“I’m not sure this marijuana law won’t be repealed at some point,” said Hodgson. “Just because the marijuana law passed, it’s still a violation of federal law.”
If Sen. Jeff Sessions, a rabid prohibitionist, gets to carry out his vision of justice as U.S. Attorney General, Hodgson may well get his wish.
Massachusetts law enforcement must be chafing at the legalization of cannabis, considering that the state ranks as one of the worst in the country for civil asset forfeiture -- better known as policing for profit. Cannabis provided lots of opportunities for cops to steal cash and assets from innocent people, in order to pad their budgets and buy new militarized weaponry and surveillance gear.
According to the Institute for Justice, Massachusetts law enforcement seized “almost $139 million between 2000 and 2014, an average of about $9.3 million each fiscal year,” and “received $63.5 million in [federal] equitable sharing proceeds between 2000 and 2013, or $4.5 million per calendar year.”
Massachusetts cops only need probable cause “to believe that property was involved in a crime” to seize it from people who are never charged with a crime. Owners must prove their innocence through costly court and attorney fees to get their property back, and "agencies get to keep up to 100 percent of forfeiture proceeds, giving them considerable incentive to seize property.”
Massachusetts cops have been raking in the dough through the war on drugs, so it will be interesting to see how cannabis legalization affects their profits.
Sen. Eldridge is surely taking inspiration from Gov. Peter Shumlin of neighboring Vermont, who recently pardoned 192 people for misdemeanor possession of marijuana charges.
Shumlin said in a statement:
“My hope was to help as many individuals as I could overcome that stigma and the very real struggles that too often go along with it. Vermont should follow the many states that are legalizing and regulating the use of marijuana and put to an end the incredible failure that is the War on Drugs.”