Image by Tak Toyoshima
The Nov 18 deadline for initiative campaigns to file their first round of at least 64,750 certified signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot is fast approaching. With that in mind, here’s an update and some commentary about both lunges toward marijuana legalization in 2016.
Prior to Election Day last week, Jim Borghesani of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) said his group had collected 95,000 signatures to date. Indeed, it’s a well-funded organization using paid signature gatherers, and is funded primarily by the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, DC.
Then there’s the much less restrictive ballot initiative by Bay State Repeal (BSR), whose own Steven Epstein estimates to have collected tens of thousands of signatures. Epstein is expecting more signatures to be mailed to BSR this final week before the deadline, as the campaign is relying on volunteers and the promotional support of MassCann/NORML. Epstein estimates that approximately 100 local volunteers are out collecting signatures at supermarkets on any given day, while the website allows people to print, sign, and mail in the petition.
Unfortunately, it may not be enough for Bay State Repeal, and that’s a real shame, because Massachusetts voters deserve a choice.
To date, both campaign tout some notable signers. Though Governor Charlie Baker says he opposes both initiatives, CRMLA moved his pen at the urging of WGBH radio host Jim Braude. CRMLA has also received elected support from Sen. Will Brownsberger, Rep. Jay Livingstone, and Rep. Dave Rogers. Meanwhile, BSR has received radio support: Mikey Adams on WEEI and from my show, The Young Jurks, on which we have gathered signatures from pols including United Independent Party Chair Evan Falchuk as well as from Cambridge City Councilors Leland Cheung and Nadeem Mazen.
One of the key differences between the two initiative campaigns is that CRMLA sets up a new state cannabis commission, while BSR does not. Epstein says, “Why do we need that? An additional tax beyond the state sales tax to create and fund a new bureaucracy?” Considering the debacle that the Department of Public Health has created running the state’s medical marijuana program, as well as other scandals with that agency, I can envision the campaign against CRMLA coming from radio yakkers like Howie Carr: “Yeah man, I got it, let’s put the hacks in charge of the legal weed.”
It’s worth noting the first 10 signers of each initiative. The CRMLA list includes a who’s who of national cannabis business professionals: Kris Krane of 4Front Ventures, who is new to the Boston area; Shaleen Title of THC Jobs; Dick Evans and Mike Cutler of the Evans Cutler law firm; and Adam Fine of the law firm Vicente Sederberg. Is it out of bounds to think some of these signers hope to bank on this initiative becoming law?
On the other hand, the beginning of the BSR list includes mostly local activists who have been donating time to marijuana reform for decades, mostly in the name of social justice, long before business concerns entered the conversation. Among them: Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard University Medical School; Jeff Morris, founder of SUNORML at Suffolk University; MassCann/NORML founders Maddie Webster, Linda Noel, and Epstein; longtime advocate Bill Downing; Framingham political activist Jim Pillsbury. All have vocally fought for marijuana reform as a social justice issue. The same can’t be said for someone like CRMLA campaign manager Will Luzier, who previously served as the executive director of the Massachusetts Interagency Council on Substance Abuse and Prevention.
It’s not that signers of CRMLA don’t care about social justice. Title, for instance, routinely speaks up for minorities being shut out of the cannabis industry, while Krane—during his time with Students for Sensible Drug Policy—helped scale back the federal law that denies financial aid to students with drug convictions. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the two groups. One is led by the professional cannabis class; the other, supported by MASSCANN (where I used to serve as a board member), is fronted by local activists who have been slugging it out for the cause for decades.
Overall, though, the real shame is that so many people who consider or call themselves marijuana “activists”—the folks who you will always find at the latest cup event—are not out collecting signatures, or even campaigning online. They’re either fake activists with the delusion that the millionaire CRMLA campaign is going to take care of things for them, or they just have deeply misguided priorities. As BSR campaigner Bobby McGrail told me as he headed to a Market Basket to collect signatures last week: “Too many are still not registered. I do find many that are excited and proud to sign, but yet—it bothers me, others with their cynicism and apathy. They know they should support us but they don’t. It’s frustrating.”
Yes, it is.
Here’s hoping that both campaigns receive ballot access—especially the underdog, Bay State Repeal. The odds are against them, but that isn’t stopping activists like McGrail. If only we had more like him.