The Cannabis Commission Forsakes Its Mission Statement

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 yesterday 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.

GoodSeasons

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 would create new obstacles for ex-prisoners instead of helping their reentry.

One marginally hopeful signal from yesterday’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 tomorrow’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.”

 

On Tuesday, Charlie Baker Won’t Be Able to “Target Trump Without Saying His Name”

The wind beneath Charlie Baker’s wings blew again on Tuesday evening, as lawmakers received his State of the Commonwealth address with standing ovations too numerous to mention.

The Governor’s poll numbers appear to operate in inverse relation to those of the President — the more appalled we are by latter, the more appreciative we are of the former.  (Michael Jonas made a similar observation in Commonwealth yesterday.) And the contrast between the two speaks for itself, loudly, without any need for the Governor to mar his dignity (or his modesty) by stooping to invoke the President’s disrepute. An anodyne reference or two by Baker to “bipartisanship” can do the trick. As the Globe put it yesterday, “Baker targets Trump, without saying his name.”

BakerTargetsTrump

This Trump-Baker polarity has caused us to overlook important connections between them, like the fact that the Governor’s complex fundraising apparatus funnels money to the Republican National Committee, which it’s using to help maintain a Congressional majority for the President’s odious policies.

Next week may bring a new challenge to the Governor’s power to burnish his own popularity by appearing to transcend the detested Trump brand.

On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the immigration bill the Governor filed in August in response to a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court. That decision, which held that no authority exists to allow Massachusetts law enforcement officials to detain persons who are wanted only because of civil immigration violations, has barred police in the state from assisting with the President’s deportation agenda by holding such persons until ICE can come pick them up.

The Governor says that his bill would provide statutory authority for law enforcement officials to cooperate with ICE, but would not require them to do so. (Whether that statutory authority would pass state constitutional muster is an issue the SJC has not decided.) In advocating for the bill, Baker noted a history of state cooperation with federal immigration officials in apprehending dangerous criminals, a history to which he’d like to return.

But that’s just it — it’s history, no longer operative.  ICE is now under President Trump’s direction, and it’s very busy carrying out some of his most hateful policies. If that fact was not obvious when the Governor filed his bill in August, the “Operation Safe City” raids the following month, in which ICE specifically targeted Massachusetts, made it unmistakable.

Cooperating with ICE now means condoning raids and deportations without regard to the criminality of the persons being deported. It means endorsing a racist show of force being wielded for its own sake, contemptuously ripping apart families and our social fabric.

At the Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, the Governor won’t be able to conduct business as usual — targeting Trump without saying his name.  His administration will be standing with the President — openly supporting the authority of police departments to choose to become part of Trump’s xenophobic deportation machine. And if his bill were to become law, he’d be the one to enlist our State Police in Trump’s cause.

(The Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 30, starting at 1:00 P.M. in Room A-2.)

Thoughts on First Hearing of a Possible Deval Patrick Presidential Candidacy

Two policy ideas that many of us would regard as inhumane:

The first: a restrictive policy on access to emergency shelter for homeless families with kids, under which many families must first prove that they have slept in a place not meant for human habitation, like a hospital emergency room, a train station or a car in order to be granted shelter.

The second: a proposal to count federal disability payments as income in deciding eligibility for cash welfare grants. This proposal would, for example, take away a $400 monthly welfare grant to a grandmother and her 13-year-old granddaughter who cannot walk or talk because of cerebral palsy because the granddaughter receives $750 per month in federal disability payments.

The first of these is currently our state’s policy. The second is not. It has been stopped — twice — by the Legislature, which may stop it again this year. You might not be surprised to learn that Governor Baker supports both ideas, but you might be surprised to learn that Governor Patrick did too — in fact, his administration originated them.

Craven Capitulation: Massachusetts Edition

[Update: July 13, 2017: In light of the news that House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey is stepping down, I note the following:

  1. ML Strategies is a lobbying powerhouse on Beacon Hill. Its biggest client in 2016, to the tune of $276,579.23, was Wynn Resorts.
  2. The budget provision that could give casinos (including Wynn’s Everett casino) a big competitive advantage was included as part of the House Ways and Means budget.  The Senate did not include such a provision.
  3. Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey resigned from the House to become the chief operating officer at ML Strategies.]

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[Original post: July 7, 2017]

While we’re understandably fixated today on the craven capitulation of our president over in Hamburg, let us pause to recognize a nadir of submission reached right here in Massachusetts — in the annual budget released this morning.

Casino magnate Steve Wynn, the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and a friend and supporter of his fellow tycoon Donald Trump, has been busy lately twisting the arm of Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the few Republican opponents of the Senate health care plan, to retract his opposition and get with the program. That health care plan, of course, would cost Massachusetts a billion dollars a year starting in 2020 (the year after Wynn’s Everett casino is scheduled to open). By 2025, the plan would have ruined our health care system and possibly our economy: a quarter-million of our poorest residents would have lost their health care coverage and annual costs would have nearly doubled.

Our state’s response? To amend our gambling law so that casinos could continue selling alcohol after the 2 a.m. closing time for bars and restaurants.  A spokesperson for the House of Representatives, where the amendment originated, explained that we need to “ensure competitiveness,” a rationale that will come as a surprise to the hospitality industry establishments that will be trying to compete without the advantage of the late hours (or a slots barn).

Anyway, a nice kiss for Steve Wynn that leaves the rest of us wondering — whatever happened to this piece of advice from the current POTUS? “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

 

Help to Save the ACA by Being Selfish

You can help save the ACA (aka Obamacare) in the Senate by helping to foil the Republican efforts to smuggle the bill through the Senate unseen.

The Indivisible folks have a website that lets you file an amendment to exempt yourself from the strictures of the Senate’s version of Trumpcare.  Whatever the GOP bill ends up proposing, you can help stall its progress by asking your Senator to file and debate an amendment exempting you, as an individual, from its (very mean) provisions.  You can also add other comments, which will be entered into the Congressional Record to say why you think Trumpcare is an abomination.

So, in the interests of all of us, help run out whatever clock the GOP has in mind. Go forth and ask for an exemption — just for you.

Link here.

Tomorrow: The Legislature’s Second Vote on the Fair Share Tax

The Legislature will vote again tomorrow on an amendment to the state constitution to impose an additional four percent tax on the income of persons that exceeds a million dollars annually.

This will be the second of two legislative votes the constitution requires for amendments that originate as initiative petitions.  The proposed amendment received 135 “yes” votes from the 200 members of the Legislature last year, far more than the 50 necessary to advance. Another 50 or more “yes” votes tomorrow will put keep the amendment on track to appear on the 2018 statewide ballot.

But the closer the amendment gets to a popular vote the more opposition it attracts.  For example, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, which sat things out last year, is joining forces with other business groups in a legal challenge aimed at knocking it off the ballot.

And last year’s opponents are ratcheting up their efforts this year.  Associated Industries of Massachusetts is running a multi-episode series entitled “The Constitutional Amendment Tax Trap” to puncture what it regards as myths (sample myths: the state has a revenue problem, the state needs to invest more in transportation, high income earners are not paying their fair share).

Likewise, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association is rushing to the aid of the 19,600 residents of the state who would be subject to the additional tax, warning the rest of us against penalizing talent (their word) in this way. They offer an ominous scenario in which some — or all — of the top 900 of these residents (that is, those whose annual earnings exceed $10 million, aka, the top one-one hundredth of one percent) just take their ball and go elsewhere, leaving the state with less revenue than before.  In other words, income inequality in Massachusetts has reached the point where it’s being suggested that our tax policy ought to beseech our biggest plutocrats not to leave.

Anyway, stay tuned – this battle isn’t over.

 

Convention of the States? One “Yes” Vote in Massachusetts

The Koch brothers and their allies think it would be a swell idea if the states got together to have a convention for the purpose of adopting amendments to the Constitution.

And they’re working at getting the state legislatures in 34 states (a two-thirds majority) to ask for one, as Article V of the Constitution provides. Right now, they’re at 28, and several more states are targets in this year’s legislative sessions. The amendments at the top of the wish-list would require a balanced budget and would limit federal power in other unspecified ways. And as misguided as those ideas are, it’s even worse — there’s nothing to stop a convention from entertaining other amendments once it gets underway, so we could also be looking at proposals doing away with same-sex marriage and even the most modest form of gun control, not to mention due process and equal protection. (Before you get too jittery, any amendments would have to be ratified by 38 states, a three-quarters majority.)

You’re probably thinking it can’t happen here in Massachusetts. And you’re probably right that our Legislature will not join the 28 on board so far. But there is a bill pending before the Election Laws Committee to have Massachusetts join the ranks of states asking for a convention. It was filed by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and it proposes a convention “limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government [and] limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.”

(Senator Tarr on other occasions is not so unhinged and sometimes his proposals are laudable: for example he has filed legislation to prohibit broadband providers in Massachusetts from using or selling their customers’ internet histories without permission, reinstating an Obama-era rule that President Trump did away with.)

The Election Laws Committee has not scheduled a hearing date yet. It will be interesting to hear testimony in support of the bill, especially explanations about how amendments proposed by a convention of the states could be limited in the way the Senator fondly hopes. Stay tuned, and meanwhile, if you have friends in Maine, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington or Idaho, tell them to be on the lookout. Those Legislatures are the ones the Kochs are pursuing.