Word has arrived that the marijuana legalization bill, H1371, An Act to regulate and tax the cannabis industry, will be heard by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on Tuesday, March 6, at 1 PM in Room A-2 of the Statehouse in Boston. Please mark your calendars!
This is the bill that I first filed as a citizen petitioner in 1981 and refiled in the '09-'10 session of legislature with some small tweaks. This session it was sponsored by Representative Ellen Story of Amherst as a direct result of the Public Policy Question in her district, in the 2010 election, that instructed her to support such a bill. She acknowledges that she has filed it in response thereto.
The PPQs were put on the ballot by MassCann and DPFMA, under the leadership of Steve and Scott and others. A number of people on this list exerted themselves to stand outside post offices in the rain, collecting signatures to get them on the ballot. That a tax-and-regulate bill has gotten this far--sponsorship by a house member and not some wingnut citizen from out west--is the direct consequence of those efforts. We remain grateful to them.
What's important about the hearing on March 6 is not that this is a chance to legalize marijuana. The committee will want nothing to do with it, and the bill will go no further in the legislative process. The measure of our success will be that we get some good questions from committee members, and can engage them in serious dialogue.
Rep. Story's bill, I should have mentioned, is co-sponsored by Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton, Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, and Rep. Anne Gobi of Spencer. The hearing will be a good occasion to recognize these courageous members, implicitly reminding the entire legislature that support of this issue is not political suicide, i.e., that an earnest politician can support legalization without incurring the wrath of voters. The worst thing that's happened, from what I've heard, is that the sponsors have gotten snickers from their colleagues, but that's no big deal, as leaders always get snickers from those who fear to break a taboo. In this case it is the generations-old taboo against discussing the repeal of marijuana prohibition seriously, in a political setting, without winks, smirks and cheap puns.
(That the leadership in marijuana reform in Massachusetts has been taken by women, like the leadership for the repeal of alcohol prohibition eighty years ago, has not gone unnoticed).
I urge everyone to come to the hearing, and please spread the word among friends, colleagues, bloggers, publications, etc. Filling the room says more than any words. This is a good opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of support for replacing marijuana prohibition with an alternative that does not subject responsible adults to punishment. (H1371 regulates cannabis more or less like alcohol. A FAQ sheet is attached, but I urge you not to get bogged down in the particulars. I'm confident there's something in it to offend everyone.)
Everyone has the right to address the committee, and I encourage everyone to seize the opportunity and let your voice be heard. If you wish to speak, I have a few suggestions:
1. Arrive early. When the doors to the room open, put your name on the signup sheet. Names will be called in order (except for VIPs who are heard out of order).
2. Do your homework. Before the hearing, write out what you want to say, in 2-3 coherent paragraphs. but do NOT read them to the committee. No grownup likes to be read to. Instead, speak from the heart, looking the committee members in the eye, but using the words you have previously chosen to express your ideas. You will be limited to 3 minutes. Do not waste any of that time groping for words. It's OK to have notes, but I suggest no more than one word per paragraph.
3. Visuals, documents. If you can produce a chart or some other good visual to illustrate your point, bring it along, as TV and photographers like visuals, but be sure it is suitably dignified for the occasion, not amateurish. Bring reduced copies for committee members and the press, if any, together with what other articles or other documents that you want the committee members to see. Materials on the economics of prohibition vs. repeal would be pertinent.
This is not a political rally. It is a legislative hearing, but a stage from which we can reach a different audience and demonstrate that the repeal of marijuana prohibition is a legitimate and extremely timely topic for broad public discussion, and that such a discussion can occur with the sobriety it deserves.
I welcome questions and suggestions on how to make the most of this occasion: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks all! See you March 6 on Beacon Hill.
Dick Evans will be a guest on the March 3rd, Two Hotheads on Cannabis show!