Advocates Focus On Police Concerns, Retroactive Expungement After Legal Pot Q Passage

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Recreational marijuana ballot initiative supporters are now also pushing the issue of retroactive expungement, which is the erasing of criminal records of citizens arrested for previous marijuana offenses that would be legal under the new law.

Expungement was written into California's ballot question on marijuana, but was not included in the Massachusetts question.

To help explain why — and talk about what's ahead — we spoke with Shanel Lindsay, one of the authors of ballot initiative 4, who joined Morning Edition.

Interview Highlights

On why retroactive expungement wasn't included in the initiative

SL: "Expungement is very important. And there are a lot of people now that are pushing toward expungement, and I think that we're going to be successful in that effort. Massachusetts initiative law dictates that an initiative cannot undo judicial action — so we couldn't include expungement in our initiative ... So now it is time for people in the cannabis advocacy groups to work along with those other grassroots organizations that are already pushing for expungement. And certainly, I think that this is something that the Legislature should take up, because it only makes sense."

On concerns about law enforcement of the new marijuana law

"One thing we all need to be vigilant about when we're implementing this law is understanding — in addition to the commercial side of things — we are dealing with a situation where people still, every day, are being disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system when it comes to cannabis infractions. ... One thing that needs to be on the forefront of the Legislature's mind is how we are going to train local and state police to implement this law to in a way that removes disparity, rather than increases disparity like we saw in Colorado after legalization."

"My biggest concern along these lines is that police will continue to stop and frisk young people of color. The bigger concern, too, is the "up-charging" that we see in communities of people of color. What I mean by that is when people are possessing less than an ounce of cannabis — or a permissible amount — rather than getting a ticket, this is again under [Massachusetts] decriminalization, what would happen is rather than getting a ticket like the law required, they would be charged with possession with intent to distribute. Which takes it out of the decriminalized zone and puts it in squarely into a criminalized zone, which is even worse than possession."

On solutions going forward as the law is implemented

"There is a provision that is included in the initiative — [Section 5, Subsection] 4(a)(4) — that says that not only does this new commission that's promulgating regulations have to encourage full participation from communities that have been harmed by prohibition, but it also says that the commission has to promulgate regulations that will positively impact those communities. I think that police training and community engagement is exactly what that provision contemplates.

"I think it is hard sometimes for law enforcement to look at statistics and see disparate enforcement, because I do believe that the majority of police officers and police chiefs want to have equity in policing. It's going to take some reflection on the part of these law enforcement agencies, and it is going to take them working alongside us to make sure the law is implemented correctly. But I am hopeful that that will happen."

This article was originally published on December 01, 2016.

This segment aired on December 1, 2016.


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Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.



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