Mass Lawmakers Clarify Support For Cannabis In Turbulent Federal Times

Photo by Dan McCarthy

Politics and cannabis go hand in hand in these parts lately, but it’s not every day that politicians are seen at the dispensary counter. Nevertheless, at an informal press conference last week, State Sen. Pat Jehlen, co-chair of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy, and State Rep. Mike Connolly were all business walking through Revolutionary Clinics in Somerville. It was almost as if the plans that US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has for legal marijuana in the US have been outwardly and proudly refuted by the patient care scene in the Hub alone.

Like many other operators in the state, Meg Sanders, managing director at Revolutionary Clinics, lived through trench warfare during the medical and recreational movements in Colorado and Washington states, among other places. As she sees it, recent news at the federal level regarding the reversal of the famous Obama-era Cole memo—which let states act as they wished—is troubling, but nothing new.

“For me it was a nice piece of paper when it came out because it felt like we were going in a positive direction in regards to this plant,” Sanders said. While she’s disappointed in the move by Sessions, given the Alabama lawmaker’s longtime prohibitionist positions, the setback didn’t surprise her any more than it is slowing down cannabis operations in Mass. “We operated for a long time without any ‘memos’ guiding or protecting us,” she added.

“What, are they going to mobilize the National Guard to shut down all pot businesses?” said Erik Williams, Revolutionary media relations manager.

With the feds puffing their chests, many in the local cannabis community are looking to our state and local legislators to keep up their advocacy. In his part, Rep. Connolly said he welcomed the request that Gov. Charlie Baker put forward following the foul news out of Washington, in which he suggested that the DOJ and Sessions focus on the opioid and fentanyl epidemics in our state and region, instead of spending any resources to back up all his braggadaccio.

“I think we’re in a tough position and we’re still processing the news,” Rep. Connolly said. “Think of everything we’ve been through in our state, going back to decriminalization and then the legislative effort this past year. … For this to happen at this time when we’re actually less than half a year away from the opening of commercial marijuana generally, I think we can just hope for the best and consider what further steps we can take.”

It’s worth noting that the US Department of Justice is barred from spending federal funds on state crackdowns on medical marijuana, the doings of the congressional Rohrabacher-Farr amendment passed in 2014. That measure is set to expire on Jan 19 without congressional reauthorizing, and Sen. Jehlen feels it is “on Congress to push back first.”

“We can comment and say we don’t want state or local resources used to support a federal law when it’s legal in Mass,” Jehlen said. “But to stop [Sessions], I think Congress is the one that has to step up, and I’m hoping that’ll happen.”

As to how constituents can get involved and make an impact, Jehlen says it is as simple as calling elected officials and putting the screws to them.

“It’s important at times like this we let leaders demand that they protect what we all voted for right there in Mass,” Jehlen added.

Rep. Connolly echoed those sentiments, reminding that a lot of pols have critical elections coming up and in some cases are facing new challengers. Cannabis, as the state rep points out, is a topic that a lot of people feel more than just a little passionately about.

“We’ve seen time and time again voters going to the polls and demonstrating their willingness to support a sensible drug policy,” Connolly said. “My hope is that candidates running for Congress in these 2018 elections are making it clear that if they get elected, they’re going to go to Washington, DC, and end federal prohibition once and for all.”

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