Releaf Magazine
14Oct/140

Massachusetts Has Banked Over $3M In Dispensary Fees & Not A Single Marijuana Seed Has Been Planted

MASSACHUSETTS: It was almost an entire month ago that medical marijuana advocates crammed underneath the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House to outline a number of problems the state is perpetuating with the licensing process. Years after the herbal treatment was approved by Bay State voters, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has yet to allow dispensaries to put seeds in the ground, but they’ve been happy to collect the application fees in the process.

To date, MassDPH has banked $3,271,500 in application fees from prospective dispensaries. Consider that 181 applicants paid out $1,500 apiece. When that number was trimmed down to 100, they subsequently paid out $30,000 each in order to move on. Just 11 dispensaries stand to open their doors at this point.

The fees are nonrefundable for the hopefuls that didn’t make the cut.

But that’s not all. Dispensaries that are approved for licensure will have to pony up annual fees of $50,000 for registration, $500 for dispensary agent registration and another $50 for patient registration. And then there’s an architectural review of the premises that will cost at least $1,500.

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20May/141

Confusion Over Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Law Leads To Patient Arrests

MASSACHUSETTS: Nathan Marrin was stunned when West Springfield police seized his marijuana during a traffic stop last month and slapped him with a $100 citation. After all, he had shown them a doctor’s letter indicating that he needed the drug to treat his anxiety.

In Spencer, Andrzej Conner is still furious about his arrest last May for growing 37 marijuana plants in a locked basement utility room. The 27-year-old tractor salesman had a similar letter from his doctor certifying he was approved to cultivate and use cannabis to relieve “debilitating” anxiety.

Persistent confusion surrounding Massachusetts’ 18-month-old medical marijuana law has led to criminal charges or civil citations against people who thought they were playing by the rules. While no state agency is tracking the numbers, more than a dozen cases have been described to the Globe by people who have been charged or cited or by the lawyers who represented them.

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Via MJ News Network

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16May/140

Massachusetts’ Medical Marijuana Shouldn’t Fall Under the State Sales Tax

But if we ever legalize recreational pot, then we should.

by Nick DeLuca

Though the 20 licensed medical marijuana facilities in Massachusetts have yet to open up their doors, lawmakers and state officials are still ironing out all of the new industry's policies and regulations. State Senator Brian Joyce just added a new idea to the mix, suggesting medical marijuana fall under the 6.25 percent sales tax.

But it shouldn't.

According to an article from the Boston Herald, Joyce contends that applying Massachusetts' sales tax to medicinal pot "could generate nearly $6.5 million in tax revenue in its first year and $15.8 million by year three — estimates he called 'low' given the law allows for up to 15 more dispensaries."

Our New England brethren states of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine, he adds, do not exempt medical weed from their own respective sales tax regulations and, in fact, the only state out of 22 to do so is Illinois.

In Colorado, where marijuana is both legal for recreational and medicinal purposes, there's an interesting pattern emerging. Sales revenue from medical marijuana in January, February and March of this year yielded $913,519; $1,022,176; and $999,900, respectively. Remember, too, that Colorado's sales tax pales in comparison to the Bay State's at 2.9 percent.

When compared to revenue from recreational pot, the numbers steadily increase. In January, it was $416,690; in February, $438,253; and in March, $569,505. These numbers only stand to continue rising, and likely won't spike erratically the way the medicinal numbers do.

Perhaps, then, Joyce is offering up the wrong proposal. Perhaps, then, the question shouldn't be, How can we squeeze every last cent out of medical marijuana? But rather, How can we safely legalize recreational marijuana and tax it fairly?

Massachusetts General Law allows for some items of the health and wellness variety to be taxed. Alcohol, for example, which is nearly always compared to marijuana in respect to health, profit and substance abuse, is not exempt from taxation when used for medical purposes. Neither is nonprescription medicine, over-the-counter medications not sold on prescription and vitamins.

But medical marijuana will fall under certain lawful provisions that allow it to be exempt from being taxed. Sale of certain over-the-counter medicines for human use that are prescribed by a registered physician, for the treatment of a disease or for direct medication of patients and dispensed pursuant to a prescription of a registered physician, are not taxable.

Massachusetts' medical marijuana fits all of those three criteria.

It seems, then, that Joyce and constituent supporters of his measure may be overreaching. Let's not forget that the people most in need of marijuana as a health remedy or soothing agent are likely already up to their eyeballs in medical bills. After all, they'll be suffering from the likes of cancer, glaucoma, HIV positive, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, as noted by Massachusetts General Law.

And while the Herald notes further that Joyce would allocate the additional tax revenue toward "drug treatment and addiction services, not 'for any nefarious purpose of fattening state government,'" it's not necessary and does nothing more than add to the burden of those already suffering.

Some of those on Beacon Hill who rightfully oppose Joyce's proposition say that $50,000 in annual fees – not to mention the nonrefundable costs of the application process – from each of the 20 dispensaries is plenty.

The State Senate has begun debating the amendment, as well as others attached to the $36.25 billion budget proposal released Wednesday, and have until Friday to put forth any more.

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Via Bostinno

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25Apr/142

Medical marijuana patients push Patrick administration for faster approval of medical marijuana licenses

Jeffrey Wyda, of Chicopee, spoke at the State House on April 24, 2014 about the importance of medical marijuana in allowing him to live with chronic health issues. (SHIRA SCHOENBERG / THE REPUBLICAN)

For Jeffrey Wyda, 39, of Chicopee, access to medical marijuana has resulted in an “amazing increase” in his quality of life, Wyda said.

Wyda, a registered nurse, has lived for 31 years with ulcerative colitis and 15 years with a spinal injury and chronic spinal chord infection. He suffers from chronic nausea and severe pain and cramping. He does not want to eat, and his body does not absorb food properly.

Since Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana, Wyda has had a caregiver who is allowed by law to grow and provide marijuana to him. The drug has lessened his nausea, which helps him tolerate his pain medication and eat enough food to maintain proper nutrition.

However, Wyda said he is eager for the state to open its medical marijuana dispensaries so he can get more consistent access. With a single caregiver, he said, patients remain vulnerable to everything from crop failure to the loss of that caregiver. “A dispensary will offer me regular, safe access to medicine,” Wyda said.

A group of patients and medical marijuana advocates held a press conference at the State House on Thursday to ask Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration to immediately issue licenses, or registrations, that would allow the state’s new medical marijuana dispensaries to open.

Matthew Allen, executive director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, said the process the state has set up to approve the dispensaries and verify their application information is taking too long. “It’s time to finish up verifications, get the registrations issued,” Allen said. “Patients continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

The alliance is also asking for changes to a rule that allows caregivers to grow marijuana for only one patient, a law intended to avoid improper diversion of marijuana. The alliance wants a rule similar to laws in Rhode Island and Maine, which let caregivers provide for up to five patients.

Medical marijuana was approved by voters in a November 2012 referendum. The state wrote rules to govern the program and created an application process, which attracted 180 applicants. The state in January announced that it was giving provisional licenses to 20 applicants.

But since the licenses were granted, questions have been raised about the process. Media reports found cases in which medical marijuana companies misstated the level of local support they had received. Several lawsuits have been filed by losing dispensaries. The Boston Globe reported that a couple who received licenses to manage three Massachusetts dispensaries had to shut down their Colorado dispensary after repeated violations.

Officials at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health have stressed that the licenses are only provisional, and companies must still undergo background checks and have the information in their applications – such as statements of local support – verified.

“DPH’s focus is on striking the appropriate balance between ensuring patient access and public safety. To that end, we are engaged in a process of fully verifying all information and operational plans submitted by dispensary applicants,” said David Kibbe, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Health. “That process takes time.”

On its website, the department says the verification process was supposed to be done in March with inspections of the facilities in the spring. The dispensaries could open this summer.

The department says now that it is still in the verification process.

Kevin Fisher, CEO of New England Treatment Access, which received a provisional license for facilities in Northampton and Brookline, said the company is still on track to get its local approvals by May, and is investing money and time into its cultivation facility, even with the knowledge that its license is still pending, in order to keep the dispensary on schedule to open September 1.

But Fisher said he knows the state plans to continue interviewing licensees through the first week in May. If New England Treatment Access does not get its license to put seeds in the ground by May 1, that will delay the opening, simply because of the time it takes to grow and process marijuana. “We’ve been doing everything we can on our end to stay on the timeline,” Fisher said. “We’ll continue to be responsive to DPH so when they issue (the license), we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.”

Allen’s group argues that the dispensary licenses can be revoked at any time if issues come up, so there is not reason not to issue the licenses now. Meanwhile, they say, patients are suffering, and many do not have access to marijuana at all. Mark Weiner, a physician living in Sharon, was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer in 2012 and underwent a year of chemotherapy, resulting in nausea so severe that he could not eat or drink and became too weak to hold a spoon. “What could I do, send my wife to meet a criminal in a back ally?” Weiner asked. “It’s not going to happen. I’ll suffer. And I did.” Weiner urged the Patrick administration to license the dispensaries immediately.

Also still unresolved is the status of medical marijuana in four counties, including Berkshire and Franklin, where dispensaries did not receive licenses in January. The Department of Public Health said it planned to invite eight applicants, who had applied for licenses elsewhere in the state, to reapply in those counties.

Karen van Unen, executive director of Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program for the Department of Public Health, said in mid-February that the department expected to release its requirements for new applications within two weeks. The applications were supposed to be due in early May with licenses awarded in early June. However, the Department of Public Health still has not announced the process for those dispensaries to reapply.

A department spokesman declined to comment on the timing of that process.

Robert Mayerson, the CEO of Patriot Care Corporation, which is looking seriously at reapplying in Greenfield, said he has not heard anything from the state in the last month and a half about the reapplication process. “We’re continuing to look for real estate, we’ve met with town officials, we’re very eager to get going on (a Greenfield dispensary). We’re waiting for the state to validate the process,” Mayerson said.

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Via Mass Live

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27Jan/140

Massachusetts to Issue Medical Marijuana Dispensary Permits Thursday

By Scott Gacek

Massachusetts to Issue Medical Marijuana Dispensary Permits Thursday

BOSTON, MA — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health, charged with implementing the state’s 2012 voter approved law allowing medical marijuana in the Bay State, is expected to announce the recipients of medical marijuana dispensary licenses on Thursday, January 30.

The Department of Public Health will issue between 7 and 35 medical marijuana dispensary licences out of over 100 applications that were received last year.

Under the language of Question 3, the initiative approved by 63% of the state’s voters in 2012, at least one medical marijuana dispensary must be approved to open in each of Massachusetts’ seven counties.

There is a limit of five dispensaries per county, capping the maximum number of dispensaries statewide at 35.

While the Department of Public Health has been criticized for it’s handling of implementing the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, including their July 2013 decision to stop allowing patients to cultivate their own medical marijuana until dispensaries are open, some patient advocates applaud the progress the DPH has made.

“I’ve been impressed with the steps that DPH has taken to execute a transparent process and develop regulations that address concerns from an array of stakeholders,” said Matthew J. Allen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance (MPAA). “Given the number of applicants and the thoughtful approach the agency has taken so far, I’m confident that the final pool of licensees will represent those best qualified to meet patient needs.”

About 140 individual non-profit organizations submitted applications to operate dispensaries in Massachusetts, with some groups hoping to operate multiple dispensaries in the Bay State.

A total of 181 applications for individual dispensaries were submitted in the first phase of the application process, with 158 of those applications advancing to the second phase.

Of those 158 approved to advance, about 100 applicants paid the $30,000 application fee to advance to phase two of the application process.  The final dispensaries selected must also pay an annual $50,000 registration fee.

Phase 2 applicants must demonstrate local community support for their proposed location during the application review process, and must show that they can comply with all municipal rules, regulations, ordinances and bylaws.

Regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries require them to follow strict security plans, require seed to sale monitoring, restrict signage, and prohibit of on site medical marijuana use.

Only patients with a doctor’s recommendation and an identification card issued by the state will be permitted to enter dispensaries.

Throughout the application process, the Department of Public Health has  come under fire from medical marijuana patients and activists, who say the guidelines created by the Department are catered towards profits for the select few who are able to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the state, and do not protect patients.

Advocates fear that the high costs of fees associated with opening a dispensary, combined with the elimination of home cultivation and limiting caregivers to only one patient, will lead to limited access of medical marijuana for patients, with high dispensary prices forcing patients to continue purchasing medical marijuana on the black market.

Dispensaries are expected to finally open later this year.  Meanwhile, a drive is already underway to place an initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuanaon the November 2016 ballot.

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Via The Daily Chronic

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16Nov/130

Massachusetts warms to medical marijuana, according to survey by Western New England University

pot.JPG

Associated Press photo

By Stephanie Barry

SPRINGFIELD - The public is warming to the idea of medical marijuana dispensaries as the state's final deadline for applicants nears, according to a new survey by the Western New England University Polling Institute.

A statewide telephone survey of 517 adults conducted earlier this month found that 74 percent support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, while 21 percent oppose the policy and another 5 percent were undecided. Meanwhile, 61 percent of adults said they would support a dispensary in their community; 30 percent said they would be opposed and 9 percent were undecided or declined to answer.

Approval to introduce medical marijuana shops came through a ballot measure in the 2012 general election. The initiative won approval from voters 63 to 37 percent.

The polling institute showed support for the practice has grown significantly since the last time it posed the question to voters - just before the 2012 ballot question. That survey showed 63 percent supported the policy, with 29 percent in opposition.

"The survey data indicate that Massachusetts residents have embraced the concept of medical marijuana in increasing numbers," said Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University.

The deadline to submit final applications is Nov. 21, and must be hand-delivered.

Vercellotti credited the state's public awareness campaign with growing support among the citizenry.

"As public awareness increases, support seems to go up as well. Public education may play an important role as state and local officials consider locations for the dispensaries."

Locally, several prominent members of the business and political landscape have emerged as contenders to open medical marijuana shops.

Heriberto Flores, president of the New England Farm Workers Council, who has significant real estate holdings downtown and elsewhere, has teamed up with former state Senate Minority Leader Brian P. Lees to form a nonprofit company called Debilitating Medical Treatment Centers. R. Lyman Wood, of Hampden, has pledged $500,000 to back the company if it wins a state license.

That company has already won preliminary approval from the state earlier this year along with 57 other applicants. The state requires that applicants are nonprofit organizations with broader human service missions and are well-capitalized.

Under the law, the state can license up to 35 dispensaries, including at least one but no more than five in each county.

Flores told a reporter this week that his company is moving forward but declined to say which community it intends to target.

"Full steam ahead," he told a reporter during a visit to the Statehouse.

Prospective applicants have bemoaned widespread moratoriums in cities and towns across the Pioneer Valley including in Springfield, Agawam, Longmeadow, Hadley, Hampden, Westfield, Hatfield, Palmer and and Williamsburg. And, local support is critical to applicants.

In Chicopee, officials passed an ordinance allowing medical marijuana shops but included tight zoning requirements. One applicant, Robert Carp of Baystate Alternative Health Care, said previously he toured the entire city and was unable to find a suitable building. However another applicant, Manuel Esteves, has a proposal under review by the City Council for a site at 658 Fuller Road.

Former state senator turned lobbyist Stephen J. Buoniconti, a clerk in C Care Inc., won preliminary approval from the state but said he and his partner are still mulling whether to go forward.

"The application is a behemoth, quite a few people may not go forward," Buoniconti said, citing concerns over the moratoriums, the need for major security details around the facilities required by the state and uncertainty about whether voters may legalize marijuana altogether through a 2016 ballot measure. "But some groups are forging ahead; we're still making that determination internally."

The polling institute results, however, found that respondents' attitudes toward legalizing marijuana altogether were tepid.

Forty-one percent of adults polled said they support full legalization, with 51 opposed and 8 percent undecided.

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Via http://www.masslive.com/

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9Oct/130

US policy clouds approvals of medical marijuana

By Kay Lazar

Doctors at Massachusetts community health centers have been advised not to authorize any of their more than 638,000 patients to obtain marijuana for medical purposes because the centers fear they would lose their federal funding.

The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has advised its 36 federally funded facilities to hold off on issuing patient marijuana certifications under the state’s new medical marijuana law, because use remains illegal under federal law.

Health center physicians who believe marijuana might be beneficial for certain patients and authorize its use could be committing a “potential violation of federal law and could result in legal and financial exposure for community health centers,” according to a statement from the League.

This disconnect between state and federal marijuana law is cropping up in other areas as well; some rules restrict tenants who use medical marijuana from living in federally subsidized housing, or prevent Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics from authorizing medical marijuana.

Voters approved a ballot initiative in November, making Massachusetts one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, that allow medical marijuana use. Community health centers in other states also have advised doctors against authorizing patients to use marijuana.

It is not just federal funding at stake if the centers certify patients for marijuana use, but also loss of malpractice insurance, covered by a federal program known as the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Also, should a community health center physician be convicted under federal law for certifying a patient, the physician could be shut out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the insurance that covers many who use health centers.

The National Association of Community Health Centers is unaware of any center or center physician that have faced federal sanctions for prescribing medical marijuana, but the threat of prosecution or funding loss looms large.

“Community health centers have been providing access to care for decades, but there is no assurance that they would not come under federal investigation or that their physicians would not face trouble for certifying medical conditions under state medical marijuana programs, given it is an unsettled area of the law,” said Kathryn Watson, an attorney at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, a Washington-based law firm that advises the national group.

With health insurance unlikely to cover medical marijuana treatments, state regulators tried to ensure that lower-income people would be able to afford medical marijuana. State-licensed cannabis dispensaries must offer discounted or free marijuana to patients with documented financial hardship, but the community health centers’ stance could undermine that goal.

Among these patients is Gary, a 61-year-old disabled former church outreach worker who received a certification for medical marijuana use this year from his primary care physician at the Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center in Allston. A few puffs before meals helps pique his appetite, which, along with his weight, has shriveled because of hepatitis C, a disease that attacks the liver.

Gary asked that his last name not be used for fear of losing his publicly subsidized apartment, where medical marijuana use is prohibited.

In July, Gary received notice from the health center that his marijuana certification was being rescinded because the center was worried about losing federal funding, which accounts for about 10 percent of the facility’s funding.

“I am in a Catch-22 position,” Gary said. “I have a [doctor’s certification] that may or may not be valid.”

He has been buying marijuana on the street, bargaining prices between $200 and $300 for an ounce, and eagerly awaiting the opening of dispensaries,where he could get reduced-cost or free marijuana, as well as edible or vapor options, which would be gentler on his scarred lungs.

Paola Ferrer, grants and development director at the Allston health center, said the organization cannot risk its federal funding and care for 12,000 patients by writing certifications for a small number.

“We are really tied to the federal government and the funding stream, and until the legal issues are adequately resolved, we are not at liberty to do this,” Ferrer said.

Regulations issued by the Massachusetts health department in May require people who want to legally buy medical marijuana to receive a physician’s written certification that they have a “debilitating medical condition” that would benefit from marijuana use.

Like patients treated at community health centers, those who receive care at Veterans Affairs facilities face challenges obtaining certification. In a 2011 memo, the Department of Veterans Affairs reminded its physicians that it prohibits them from “completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a veteran’s participation in a state marijuana program.”

The memo, however, said department policy does not prohibit veterans who legally participate in a state marijuana program from also receiving other treatment at VA centers.

More confusing is a 2011 memo from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to public housing authorities. It directs them to establish standards and leases that prohibit new tenants, and those with new subsidized housing vouchers, from using “state-legalized medical marijuana,” but gives authorities discretion to allow medical marijuana use by current residents and “to determine continued occupancy policies that are most appropriate for their local communities.”

An August memo from the US Department of Justice to federal prosecutors has also left many lawyers and health administrators unsettled.

The department attempted to clarify its policy by listing eight priorities, such as preventing marijuana sales to minors. The priorities do not specifically mention selling, growing, or authorizing patients to get marijuana for medical use.

The department is “committed to using its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats in the most effective, consistent, and rational way,” the memo states.

It concludes by noting the department still has authority to enforce federal laws “including federal laws relating to marijuana, regardless of state law.”

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Via http://www.bostonglobe.com/

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7Sep/130

So… No Boston Freedom Rally? MAYBE?

Your Right Seems Like a Real F*&%ing mess Jake. 
And maybe not waiting til 9 days before a giant event people have paid thousands of dollars planning around may not be the best way to file for city permits.

Call us bitter....

Mass. Govt. 1 - BFR 0

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8Jul/130

State’s high on high tech to track medical marijuana

Massachusetts IT program to track medical weed

by Christine McConville

Medical marijuana is about to become a high-tech endeavor in Massachusetts, with the state exploring the acquisition of what is likely to be a multimillion-dollar IT program to monitor the so-called seed-to-sale production, transport and handling of what will continue to be a controlled substance.

The state is soliciting for consultants to advise regulators of the state’s new medical marijuana industry on how long it would take, and how much work would be required, to build a computer software system to handle “the Medical Marijuana Systems Project,” according to a state Executive Office of Health and Human Services request for information.

The state’s RFI lands nine months after Bay State voters agreed to let qualified sick people use marijuana.

Though marijuana is still banned under federal law, Massachusetts is among more than a dozen states that have legalized it for medicinal reasons.

One company that produced medical marijuana tracking software, MJ Freeway of Colorado, has already hired local lobbyists, the Herald reported last month, as part of a broader story on the big business behind medical marijuana.

The Department of Public Health’s medical marijuana rules call for the creation of “a single electronic system” that would “capture everything that happens to an individual marijuana plant, from seed and cultivation” to final sale, adding that the “system shall chronicle every step, ingredient, activity, transaction, and dispensary agent, registered qualifying patient, or personal caregiver who handles, obtains, or possesses the product. This system shall utilize a unique plant identification and unique batch identification.”

The state hasn’t said how much it expects to spend on a system. A DPH spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But officials say the multi-million dollar business will be “revenue neutral.” The fees people pay to sell and use medicinal marijuana are expected to cover the state’s costs of enacting and enforcing the new law. The state wants dispensary operators to pay annual $50,000 license fees and place $500,000 in escrow, making it unlikely small providers can enter the business.

Some of the state’s past IT procurements have been problematic.

Former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi was convicted of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion, in connection with a state decision to award Cognos, a former Canadian software company, $17.5 million in two separate contracts. DiMasi’s downfall came after investigators found that former Cognos salesman Joseph Lally paid $600,000 to a DiMasi associate on the day the state paid Cognos.

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Via www.bostonherald.com

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5Jul/130

Bristol County Officials: Minorities not targeted for marijuana possession

Local police and elected officials say law enforcement agencies in Bristol County do not target minorities for marijuana possession as suggested by a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

By Brian Fraga
 

Local police and elected officials say law enforcement agencies in Bristol County do not target minorities for marijuana possession as suggested by a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Absolutely not. I haven’t seen any evidence of it,” Somerset Police Chief Joseph Ferreira said.

“Our arrests are based on the facts of the case. We don’t make arrests or issue citations based upon the minority status of anyone,” Swansea Police Lt. Greg Ryan said.

The ACLU released its report — entitled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted in Racially-biased Arrest” — last month indicating that black people nationwide are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana.

The statistical analysis was based on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, for which local, county and state law enforcement departments across the nation provide statistics on the numbers of crimes and arrests reported in a given year.

In 2010, black people in Bristol County were 3.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, according to the ACLU analysis, which indicated that Barnstable County — where blacks were reportedly 11 times more likely to be arrested — ranked 14th in the nation for that disparity. In Plymouth County, blacks were 10.5 times more likely to be arrested, the ACLU said.

However, law enforcement officials said the statistics do not show a complete picture in that they do not take account factors such as whether marijuana arrests occurred during “high-energy” patrols in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” Marijuana possession, officials said, is also often a secondary offense in a criminal case where a defendant is charged with more serious crimes.

“You’d have to see what the population for police encounters is and then see if a particular grouping was more likely to get arrested in a similar situation,” said Taunton Police Chief Edward Walsh, who added that, “anecdotally,” he has not seen any disparities between whites and minorities being arrested.

“Generally, at the local level, unless something else is going on, marijuana possession is under the radar,” Walsh said, adding that officers often do not encounter marijuana unless there is an “ancillary situation” such as domestic violence or other violent crimes.

New Bedford Police Chief David Provencher said the statistics might be skewed by a high number of arrests happening at one time in certain neighborhood “hot spots.” But over the course of a year, Provencher said, the ACLU’s conclusion “is a strong statement based on an assertion without taking into account a whole bunch of other variables.”

Marijuana possession arrests in Massachusetts have also plummeted since minor possession — defined by state law as one ounce or less — was decriminalized after a 2008 state ballot measure,

The ACLU analysis says marijuana possession arrests in Massachusetts fell from 8,502 in 2008 to 1,240 in 2009 — an 85 percent decrease — and dropped again in 2010 to 1,181.

The number of black people arrested for marijuana possession also dropped by 85 percent, but they are still arrested at a higher rate, the ACLU said.

About 61 out of 100,000 black people continued to be arrested for marijuana possession while only 16 out of 100,000 white people were arrested for the same offense, according to the ACLU analysis.

“The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a war on people of color,” Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project and one of the report’s primary authors, said in prepared remarks.

“State and local governments have aggressively enforced marijuana laws selectively against Black people and communities, needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at tremendous human and financial cost,” Edwards said.

The ACLU report says that enforcing the marijuana laws wastes about $3.61 billion of taxpayer dollars every year — about $9.32 million in Massachusetts — and strains law enforcement resources. The ACLU favors legalizing marijuana for people over 21 in a regulated and taxed licensing scheme.

“The aggressive policing of marijuana is time-consuming, costly, racially biased, and doesn’t work,” Edwards said, adding that marijuana arrests “have a significant detrimental impact on people’s lives, as well as on the communities in which they live.”

The United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution on June 24 urging the federal government to let states craft their own policies for handling marijuana. The resolution said the “costly and ineffective prohibition” of marijuana drained public resources, and that those costs are often absorbed at the local level.

Fall River Mayor William Flanagan said he had not seen the resolution or the ACLU report, but he said that in general, he does not support liberalizing access to marijuana.

“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand the damage that drug use can cause to an individual, as well as that individual’s family and community,” Flanagan said, adding that he believes the Fall River Police Department does not treat individuals differently based on their race or socioeconomic background.

“They’re trained to investigate criminal activity, to use reasonable suspicion when warranted and make arrests based on probable cause,” Flanagan said.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said it was “outrageous” to suggest that police officers target people of color.

“It doesn’t jive with what my experience has been in law enforcement,” Hodgson said, adding that police officers and members of his department’s drug investigative team focus mainly on where drugs are coming from and who the major players are in those operations.

“We don’t care if they’re yellow, red, black or green,” Hodgson said. “We’re more interested in the outcomes."

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Via www.tauntongazette.com

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