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Rose, Thorn, Bud: City Council’s Marijuana Policy Needs Refinement

Cambridge City Hall is located on Massachusetts Avenue.
Cambridge City Hall is located on Massachusetts Avenue. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The Cambridge City Council has voted overwhelmingly for the “Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance,” which opens the door for recreational cannabis businesses in Cambridge. Notably, the legislation includes an amendment from Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui and Quinton Zondervan, establishing a two-year ban on cannabis businesses with owners who do not come from historically marginalized groups.

We believe this amendment is indicative of a concerted effort on the part of Council members to grapple with socioeconomic inequality in this city. Further, we are glad that the City of Cambridge is progressing on actually implementing marijuana legalization by facilitating the opening of local shops, and we appreciate the reparative spirit of the Council’s legislation as it seeks to right the injustices of the War on Drugs and associated historical discrimination. The attempt to make space for the victims of the War on Drugs and affected communities of color to have a first shot at opening marijuana-related businesses in Cambridge is admirable.

However, to be blunt, we feel that the groups that this legislation supports are too broad, and that more specific consideration to groups marginalized specifically by the War on Drugs would be more appropriate. Generalizing legislative support beyond the specifically affected populations seems to undermine the significant work the bill seeks to achieve. In particular, while we believe the Council has an active role to play in promoting women’s economic empowerment through a variety of city programs, we do not believe that groups not affected directly or indirectly by the War on Drugs should be included in this program.

This amendment unfortunately generalizes the plight of a group of people dealing with the historically specific dynamics of the War on Drugs into a shared struggle of all historically marginalized groups. Marginalized groups can be disadvantaged each in their own way, and this amendment offers a one-size-fits-all approach that does not give adequate concern to the directly reparative spirit in which we understand the intentions of this ordinance. It homogenizes the experience of minority groups and directs regulatory privilege towards a broader group of people in a way that belies the degree to which the burden of the War on Drugs fell disproportionately on African American and Latinx communities. While white women have faced a historical struggle that merits policy redress on a variety of dimensions, the impact of the War on Drugs on them specifically does not seem to us to be among them, particularly relative to more directly and heavily affected groups.

Even though the amendment casts too wide of a net in its support, we still applaud the ingenuity of the Cambridge City Council. Complex problems require creative solutions, and the spirit of experimental policymaking is at the heart of that important work. We hope that the Council continues taking up the task of repairing the negative effects of the War on Drugs — and all systemic oppression of marginalized groups — through innovative social policy. For example, to further Cambridge’s commitment to repairing that harm, we hope that the Council will advocate for expungement of criminal records for low-level drug offenses.

If this legislation is successful, we hope that other state and local governments will follow suit with policies of this kind and adopt more broadly this kind of creative policymaking attitude. Despite our criticism, we remain hopeful that this legislation can be a productive first step in addressing the damage done to victims of the War on Drugs and their communities.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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