Testimony of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition
Submitted to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary
186th General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
July 14, 2009


RE: S 1825 and H 1279; H 1280; H 1343; H 1536; H 1537; H 1667; H 1763; H 4006,H 4007 and any other legislation that would modify or rescind provisions of Question 2 or increase the penalties for cultivation, dealing and trafficking in cannabis.

A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty, and to maintain a free government. The people ought, consequently, to have a particular attention to all those principles, in the choice of their officers and representatives: and they have a right to require of their lawgivers and magistrates, an exact and constant observance of them, in the formation and execution of the laws necessary for the good administration of the commonwealth.
Article XVIII, A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Chairpersons Creem and O’Flaherty, honorable members of the committee:

After seeking this committee’s approval of the decriminalization of cannabis beginning in the 182nd Session, supported by proof it was a policy voters wanted, the resources appeared to place Question 2 on the ballot in November 2008. In March 2008, we appeared before this committee as it performed its constitutional duty to report on Question 2 and urged you to establish as good a policy as contained in Question 2.  Respectfully ignoring our advice, you forced Question 2 onto the November ballot
and the voters loudly spoke.

Sixty-five percent of them approved Question 2’s decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less of cannabis, and establishing a uniform $100 civil fine. Question 2 won in 349 of the 351 cities and towns. The 65% support for Question 2 was consistent with results of decriminalization public policy questions our members sponsored across the Commonwealth beginning in 2000.

Massachusetts voters do not consider their family members, friends and neighbors whom they know to use cannabis to be criminals for their use. So when given the opportunities to voice their opinions in the voting booth, they consistently approve of cannabis decriminalization.

You have before you a slate of legislation that would modify or rescind provisions of Question 2 that have been in effect for less than 7 months and others that increase the penalties for cultivation, dealing and trafficking in cannabis. To favor any of these proposals is disrespectful of the overwhelming majority’s intelligence. The people knew what they were voting for and what they were voting against-the continuation of a policy that had been in place in the Commonwealth for 97 years. A policy that saw
the behavior it intended to suppress increase thousands-fold.

At the turn of the 21st century, Massachusetts residents used cannabis at the highest rate of any state in the nation, and the metropolitan Boston area use rate was greater than that of Amsterdam, where cannabis is sold and used openly! The belief that harsher punishments will lead to lower use rates is not based on historical and cross-cultural evidence. Instead, to borrow from Stephen Colbert, it is truthiness; it feels true, so it must be.

Does Massachusetts’ recent decriminalization need fixing? To determine the answer requires study, not emotional, reactionary legislation. You need answers to questions about the cost of enforcement, the revenues collected and uncollected from citations, the degree of compliance by offenders when asked to identify themselves, the rate of use in the state and sub-state regions, and other demographics as defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

You also need to study whether it would be a more “wholesome and reasonable” policy to legalize, and therefore regulate, cannabis cultivation, distribution and use “and to impose and levy, reasonable duties and excises, upon [this] produce” as proposed by S 1801 and H 2929, “An Act to Regulate and Tax the Cannabis Industry.”

In the institutional memory of this committee since the 182nd session of the General Court are materials submitted by our organization and others supporting the latter policy as the only one that fulfills the ideals of the people of Massachusetts when they adopted the Great Charter of 1780 wherein it is proclaimed:

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government,
is to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to
furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in
safety and tranquillity their natural rights, and the blessings of life: . . . .
among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their
lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property;
in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness . . . . .

Respectfully submitted,
The officers and directors of the
Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition