By Ryan Grewal, news correspondent
Councilor Ayanna Pressley urged city councilors to hold a hearing discussing the fair distribution of marijuana licenses, should Massachusetts residents vote to legalize recreational use of the drug, at last week’s city council meeting.
During the Sept. 14 meeting, Pressley, a councilor at-large, expressed ambivalence toward her own vote on Question 4, the marijuana legalization ballot question, but urged the council to act in the interest of fairness. Her proposed measure seeks a hearing to discuss methods that would benefit disadvantaged people who might otherwise be left out of the licensing process and who were historically hurt by the criminalization of marijuana, Pressley said.
“I’m offering this hearing order to begin a conversation in the event that Question 4 does pass,” she said. “To ensure the distribution of licenses to establishments selling recreational marijuana is equitable and fair and focused on righting the injustices of the past.”
She stressed the need for City Council to be proactive in addressing the possibility of marijuana legalization, pointing to policies in Oakland, California as an example to follow. In May, the City of Oakland passed the Equity Permit Program. This program, sometimes called “war on drugs reparations,” gives an advantage in gaining dispensary licenses to citizens with past marijuana convictions and those living in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
Pressley didn’t indicate whether she believes prior convictions should be used as a criterion for granting licenses in Boston.
City Councilor Tito Jackson (District 7) supported Pressley’s measure at the meeting, agreeing that those who were disadvantaged by marijuana criminalization should be involved in the licensing process.
“I think it is really important that the people who have been hurt the most have the opportunity to be at the table,” Jackson said.
Jackson also expressed his support for the statewide legalization of marijuana, as did City Council President Michelle Wu. According to recent poll by WBUR, a majority of likely voters in Massachusetts support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Sophomore music industry major Senai Motley expressed skepticism at how the city would ensure equity in licensing.
“How are you going to single out those people?” Motley asked. “How do you determine who has been harmed?”
Senior finance and mathematics major Jinhao Sun said he supported greater regulation in the marijuana market.
“I think [legalizing marijuana] has some benefit definitely, but it needs more regulation [than now],” Jinhao said, adding that “it’s still [in] a really early stage.”
Councilor Pressley’s measure will be sent to the Council Committee on Jobs, Wages and Workforce. Pressley’s measure hasn’t been scheduled for a specific session yet. The committee’s last meeting was scheduled for Sept. 12, but it was postponed until an unannounced date.
Photo by Alex Melagrano.