A new large-scale policing reform bill proposed by a Massachusetts House committee would use marijuana tax revenue to fund law enforcement training programs—and at least one of the state’s cannabis regulators is questioning whether that’s the most appropriate use of the money.
Following the Senate’s approval of law enforcement legislation last week, the House Ways and Means Committee attached the marijuana-funded police training measure as part of an amendment released on Sunday. Tucked inside the panel’s 93-page proposal is a provision stipulating that a Police Training Fund will be partially supported by “funds transferred from the Marijuana Regulation Fund.”
While the state’s cannabis laws already say that marijuana tax revenue can go to “municipal police training” after covering the costs of implementation, advocates are frustrated that legislators seem to be using this reform bill to prioritize appropriating funds to law enforcement at this time when they feel it should be used to support restorative justice programs for communities most impacted by the drug war.
“Where are the funds for communities of color promised in this law?” Shaleen Title, who serves as a commissioner on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), told Marijuana Moment.
The Massachusetts police reform bill that was just released (House version) directs cannabis tax revenue to the police pic.twitter.com/Bq6uNd1JfD
— Shaleen Title (@shaleentitle) July 20, 2020
“California has awarded $40 million in cannabis equity grant funding in the past year. Illinois is investing a full 25 percent of its cannabis tax revenue into grants for disproportionately harmed communities,” she said. “I invite Massachusetts legislators to collaborate with regulators and communities to ensure funding flows as promised under our law.”
Tens of millions of dollars in marijuana excise tax revenue have gone undistributed to the various programs they were supposed to support, a Boston Globe analysis found in February. That includes funding for police training as well as services for “economically-disadvantaged persons in communities disproportionately impacted by high rates of arrest and incarceration for marijuana offenses,” as is specified in the law.
Title and CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman wrote an op-ed last week that’s critical of the fact that while 70 marijuana establishment licenses have been issued to social equity applicants, only three such businesses have been able to open at this point. They’re calling for the approval of a separate Senate bill that would create a social equity loan fund to promote participation in the industry by those from disadvantaged communities.
“We must work together to fully enact our landmark cannabis economic opportunity law in Massachusetts,” they wrote. “We invite all of our colleagues to take ownership of the progress that is possible if we close the gaps holding equity back.”
Adding to the frustration over the new amendment is the current national reckoning over police brutality and killings of unarmed black Americans, which has led to calls to defund law enforcement.
“Wild how reparations are perceived as unworkable when cartoonishly regressive redistribution like this is just written in without fanfare,” ACLU of Massachusetts staffer Mark Sheridan tweeted.
Wild how reparations are perceived as unworkable when cartoonishly regressive redistribution like this is just written in without fanfare. https://t.co/UsPoNsMeif
— Mark Sheridan (@Mark_Sheridan) July 20, 2020
No money for equity or social justice from our cannabis taxes as it was voted on by the people but let’s give that money to the police? Hell no! https://t.co/EPSGSShaWS
— The Young Jurks (@TheYoungJurks) July 20, 2020
This is hell https://t.co/EKb0JtDQkX
— Kumar Rao (@KumarRaoNYC) July 20, 2020
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Aaron Michlewitz (D) said in a tweet that there is “misinformation” circulating that the legislation “changes the marijuana revenue structure or creates a new fund for police training.”
Subject to annual apporiation, the Cannabis law that went into effect in 2018, always included funding for behavioral health, admistative costs for @MA_Cannabis & police training. This bill does not change that. It only references it since we are amending the training. (4/4)
— Aaron Michlewitz (@RepMichlewitz) July 20, 2020
‘The cannabis law that went into effect in 2018, always included funding for behavioral health, admistative [sic] costs for @MA_Cannabis & police training,” he said. “This bill does not change that. It only references it since we are amending the training.”
The House is expected to hold a vote on the revised policing reform bill on Thursday.
In contrast to the Massachusetts move, the Portland, Oregon City Council approved a law enforcement budget bill last month that divests marijuana tax revenue funds from the city’s police department.
In other marijuana equity moves outside of policing reform, Colorado regulators are soliciting feedback on a proposal to create a franchise cannabis business model to promote participation in the industry by people from communities harmed by the war on drugs.
Read the text of the marijuana tax revenue provision of the House committee amendment below:
This story was updated to include comment from Michlewitz.