H3195 – Retroactive Application of the Law in Criminal Cases and Records, by Kathryn Rifkin


 For The Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy

On H. 3195, Sponsored by Representative Denise Provost

Retroactive Application of the Law in Criminal Cases and Records

 from Kathryn Rifkin

Chairwoman Jehlen, Chairman Cusack, and members of the Committee, my name is Kathryn Rifkin. Thank you for this opportunity to present some remarks about H3195, An Act to Improve Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana, Sponsored by the honorable Representative Denise Provost.

In Section 22 of  H3195, the bill provides for Retroactive Application of the law for all pending cases for possession, cultivation (without intent to sell) or purchase of marijuana. Chapter 334 states very clearly that possession and cultivation of Cannabis is no longer a crime in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but it became true only on December 15, 2016. All persons charged with purchase, cultivation or possession of marijuana before December 15 must still pay the fines and incur the penalties of something that simply is no longer a crime. This clause merely attempts to make that right by applying the new law retroactively to all pending cases.

This is a very small step towards repairing the damage from a century of nightmare ideology and fearmongering regarding the cannabis plant.  The reasons for criminalizing this medicinal herb have never been valid, yet many bureaucrats and politicians, from the racist Director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, and a racist President Nixon, have waged a war on cannabis consumers that kept escalating in harshness from greater jail terms to militarized SWAT invasions rousting children from their beds at gunpoint, to the corrupt extremes of prisons for profit and asset forfeiture. The racism continues to this day, as shown by the ACLU map of redlined marijuana arrests in 2014, well past decrim and medical.  The vast majority of people caught in the web of Prohibition enforcement have been minorities and this small step is really just a beginning of the real work that lies ahead of us: making right a century of selective persecution.

There are other bills before this committee that address record expungement in great detail and I would like encourage the committee to take a long hard look at this issue and to realize that thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth have been consigned to a lifetime of poverty because their CORI record has a charge for possession or cultivation of marijuana. That which is no longer a crime should no impede a person from obtaining a good job, from pursuing higher education and job training or from bettering their lives.

Therefore, we are advocating for a paradigm change, from Escalating Punishment to Least Harm. Laws should never be more damaging than the thing itself, so moving cannabis from the purview of the courts to that of the health industry is appropriate. So is cleaning up the damage done to our minority communities. H 3195 makes a small step in this direction by retroactively applying the law in all pending cases. It is my hope that you go even further, and retroactively apply the law in all past cases where there has been no violence involved in the charges. Maybe we can then begin to repair the person, their family, and their community.