Cannabis law offers redress for past prosecution
By Larry Parnass, The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — As the state moves next week to select players for a lucrative cannabis industry, it also is looking back, mindful of how people and communities suffered under former drug laws.
Like the 24 people arrested in Pittsfield for marijuana possession in the waning days of prohibition, from 2006 to 2010.
Or the 20 people in North Adams during those five years, the 10 in Williamstown and the eight in Great Barrington.
Even as state officials await a tax windfall from cannabis sales, new rules attempt to made limited amends.
Starting Monday, the state Cannabis Control Commission will spend two weeks reviewing applications from two groups that, if certified, will be able to get a first crack at entering what’s expected to debut as a $400 million-a-year business.
One group is existing medical marijuana dispensaries.
The other: People from communities and neighborhoods, mainly black and Latino, who endured disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration.
Regret about that found its way into “An Act To Ensure Safe Access to Marijuana,” the state law that has directed work by the cannabis commission now in a final three-month sprint to the start of adult-use sales.
“Criminalization has had long-term ill effects, not only on the individuals arrested and incarcerated, but on their families and communities,” says the commission’s Summary of Equity Provisions.
People from both of Berkshire County’s two cities, North Adams and Pittsfield, are eligible to apply for priority status, based on arrest rates, population, poverty and unemployment.
That policy is meant to bring cannabis industry jobs and revenues to places that, until a decade ago, were unduly penalized, before baby steps led to marijuana possession decriminalization in 2009 and legalization in 2016.
Jon B. Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University, advised the commission on eligible communities.
In a Dec. 8 report, Gettman