At the end of June, as Massachusetts lawmakers worked to dismantle the cannabis bill passed by voters last year, my team at the WEMF Radio show “The Young Jurks” announced that we were calling for a protest outside of House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s home in Winthrop. We expected some possible pushback, but we weren’t expecting it to come from MassCann/NORML. And we didn’t expect the cannabis rights organization to be in lockstep with state reps who voted for the terrible House bill which, among other things, attempted to boost taxes on recreational cannabis.
Yet that’s exactly what happened.
In practice, however, the whole rigmarole around the protest ended up highlighting the reason we were protesting Deleo in the first place. The leader tried to force through his terrible rewrite of the legal pot law, totally ignoring the will of the people. Voters staged protests at the State House and press conferences, and organized phone campaigns and lobby days, still DeLeo thought—thinks—that he knows better than constituents. And so we showed up at his house.
We knew the demonstration wouldn’t be endorsed by orgs like MassCann and the people behind the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA). Those groups have to actually deal with the devil in person. So we asked the community, on our show, through social media, and through the MassCann activist group email list, to help us stage a protest. And they responded; even longtime MassCann board member Bill Downing printed and arranged for the delivery of hundreds of signs, and so we pledged to educate the neighbors of Rep DeLeo to ask him to adopt the Senate version of the cannabis law rewrite, which is truer to the referendum passed by voters. Another goal for the protest was to see which activists or advocates may want to run against the speaker in September.
As a point of background, I’ve been involved in Mass marijuana reform advocacy since 2000, and served on the MassCann board of directors for 10 years. I’ve also staged numerous productive protests and political actions, as well as town and city campaigns—some in cooperation with MassCann, and others independently. I also often defend and promote our state’s NORML chapter, and recently asked Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson about the annual denial of permits to the MassCann Freedom Rally. So I was a bit surprised by what came next.
A couple of days before the protest, messages rang in from other MassCann board members asking—demanding—that we reschedule, postpone, or move the protest to the home of State Sen. Richard Ross. As one MassCann board member put it, the action at DeLeo’s home “could hurt a lot of people.” That idea apparently came from MassCann lobbyists, who believed that a vindictive speaker would return the favor by refusing to budge on any changes to the House bill. Still, if we decided to go ahead with it, I expected that MassCann would simply distance themselves, at least publicly. A good cop/bad cop strategy.
The night before the event, I spoke to a rep from Regulate Mass, formerly known as the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. They politely asked me to reconsider, postpone, or just move it to another location in Winthrop, even suggesting that they would join the protest if we staged it elsewhere. We politely declined. The following day, someone from inside of that campaign warned me ahead of time that they told the State House News Service our event was “inappropriate,” and hoped I wouldn’t get too upset. I respected the phone call and understood their position. I know that many key members of MassCann and Regulate Mass felt deep down that DeLeo did deserve a protest at his home, but believed they had to play it safe. Which is crazy if you consider that voters are supposed to be served by their elected officials.
KISS THE RING
At this point, there is no denying that the cannabis community is, quite bizarrely, being forced to serve the will of Rep. DeLeo. He has the power over reform at this moment in time. Meanwhile, if there was some semblance of a representational democracy on Beacon Hill, MassCann/NORML and Regulate Mass would lead, not the other way around. Which brings us to Rep. Dave Rogers of Cambridge …
Speaking to the State House News Service, Rep. Rogers called our protest “a stupid idea,” and described himself as “one of the leading voices” of legalization while calling our behavior “childish,” “foolish,” “misguided,” and most insultingly, “fringe.” Apparently a guy who will do anything for his boss, who can substantially increase the rep’s earning power with the right appointment, Rogers came out to defend the speaker and to attack angry voters. Let’s take a look at his track record, starting back in February when he gushed on his Facebook page about being appointed to co-chair the Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy:
Yesterday the House of Representative announced committee assignments for this Legislative Session. I am honored to announce that I was named Vice-Chair of the Committee on Marijuana Policy and I appreciate the vote of confidence from Speaker DeLeo to work on one of the most high profile issues the Legislature will address.
When I pointed out that DeLeo stacked the committee with opponents of the law, Rogers responded with a wild defense, deflecting, as Mass Dems love to do, to President Donald Trump:
There likely will be changes, but not a complete rewrite. And as of December 15th of last year, 1) use, 2) possession and 3) growing at home are all already legal under state law here. My biggest concern? Federal law and our new United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. The Obama Administration essentially decided to defer to state law. The jury is out on whether the new Administration will stick to that policy.
In the past, Rogers actually filed his own legalization proposal, which included wording on taxation similar to that in the current voter-approved law, which he endorsed. Nevertheless, the rep has since voted to overturn that law, and now supports a total overhaul. So much for his promise of there not being a “complete rewrite”; the House bill that he pulled for would increase the recreational tax from 11 to 28 percent, along with a host of other horrible changes which will ensure that the black market continues to thrive.
Because the Speaker told him so.
At the same time, Rogers has made some attempt to better the law. Namely, the rep successfully sponsored an amendment which aimed to legally protect the parents of pediatric medical cannabis patients. Yet when it was time to take a stand against DeLeo, he did the exact opposite, and took a stand against voters.
Oh yeah, the actual demonstration itself. I drive to Winthrop with Patrick Wilson, an activist and registered voter in DeLeo’s district. Some of us are trying to convince him to take on the speaker, and he said that he’ll consider it.
Jim Pillsbury, an advocate from Framingham, greeted us upon arrival: “There’s a lot of cops here waiting for us, Mike.”
The two of us introduced ourselves to the police, and even shook hands with the assistant chief, who admitted that he watched us prep on social media and recognized me. Things progressed smoothly from there, with several law enforcement officers even asking about our posters, and some wanting copies for their friends and personal collections.
We were joined by a total of about a couple dozen protesters throughout the two hours we stayed there, holding signs, taking photos, posting on social media, and networking. We chatted politely with police and neighbors, and had some seriously mature conversations. Notably, nobody lit up.
Pillsbury, who was one of the early supporters of the protest, is a Framingham Town Committee member and the former host of a cable access show who has been fighting for cannabis reform for decades. He’s a bulldog when it’s needed, but also has a personable, lighter touch which has been very effective in town campaigning.
“I’ve put a question regarding marijuana on the ballot three times in Framingham since 2000,” Pillsbury explained his experience seeing small actions lead to big outcomes. “Along with authoring the Mass Hemp Farm bill. With the help of the ACLU, we sued the Town of Ashland for denying us the use of Stone Park. Years of standing in front of our post office on tax day, letting taxpayers know how much marijuana taxes would benefit them. [We] staged a protest outside a legislator’s home in Milford years ago when she proposed a bill that would allow cops who suspect someone is high on marijuana to bring that person to a hospital and have their blood drawn to see if they have marijuana in their system. That bill went nowhere.”
At 64 [years old] with five grandchildren … I stand against anyone who ignores the will of the voter and will continue to do so as long as I live.”
Which is exactly what we did in Winthrop. It doesn’t sound nearly as “fringe” as an alleged representative who votes for a 28 percent cannabis tax.
A few days later, the same board member of MassCann who had earlier reservations about the protest finally came around. Speaking to the Young Jurks, she said, “Even though MassCann didn’t officially endorse the protest, you guys were respectful, you did a great job, I loved that you reached out to DeLeo’s constituents.”
As negotiations drag on and cannabis reform continues to be delayed, I fail to see how there’s anything “stupid,” childish,” or “foolish” about that.