A Newton mother and attorney shared details of her 2010 arrest in Sharon for less than an ounce of marijuana at a Roxbury news conference. The attorney, Shanel Lindsay, spoke after the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts released a report that shows marijuana possession arrests are continuing in the state despite claims to the contrary by Question 4 opponents.
Lindsay, a University of Pennsylvania and Northeastern University law grad, said she was driving to the train station early in the morning when she was pulled over for a right-on-red infraction. The police officer noticed a small amount of marijuana in her purse, she said.
“I’m a mother, a lawyer, a businesswoman, and I’m also a person of color. What should have been a normal traffic stop…turned very sinister once he saw a small amount of cannabis in my open purse,” Lindsay said.
The police officer handcuffed Lindsay and placed her in the back of his cruiser, despite her protestations that the cannabis amounted to less than an ounce and was only subject to a civil fine. “I was sitting there, terrified, watching my car get impounded. And as we’re driving down to the station I’m pleading with him asking him why, why he is arresting me and why he is not just giving me a ticket,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay was booked at the Sharon police station and told she would be transported to the district court to be arraigned. “The same courthouse I had appeared in many times before, but this time it was going to be as a criminal. Everything in my life flashed before me. I was about to lose my career, my child, my status. The only thing that saved me was being able to come up with the best legal argument that I could muster while sitting there with the cuffs digging into my arms on a cold metal slab. And that argument was “You are violating my civil rights,'” Lindsay said.
Finally, after numerous pleas from Lindsay, police weighed the marijuana and determined that it amounted to a half-ounce. Under Massachusetts law, any marijuana amount under an ounce is subject to a civil fine, unless officers determine intent to distribute.
Lindsay was eventually released, though her car had been impounded and towed. She said she did not intend to ever share her story, but was spurred to do so by “lies crafted by (Question 4 opponents) and spread far and wide by respected media outlets. These are dangerous lies that are spun in support of a racist status quo.”
Retired Roxbury District Court Judge Leslie Harris, who announced his support for Question 4 at the press conference, recounted cases brought before him for small amount of marijuana and the damage such charges wrought on defendants.
“I believe we have to protect our children and young adults. Once you are branded with a CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information), once you have a record in this state, your life is changed forever. Doors you don’t even know you want to go through are closed to you,” Harris said.
The ACLU report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: A Massachusetts Update,” cited FBI Uniform Crime statistics to show that in 2014 there were 616 marijuana possession arrests and 1,031 marijuana sales arrests in Massachusetts.
The marijuana possession arrest rate for African-Americans was 3.3 times higher than for whites despite similar usage rates, the report found.
ACLU Racial Justice Director Rahsaan Hall said the report debunks claims of Yes on 4 opponents that social injustices ceased with the 2009 passage of decriminalization.
“Racial disparities are a disturbing feature of our current marijuana policy. Black people are arrested for marijuana possession at 10 times the rate of white people in some counties – despite the fact Black people and white people use marijuana at the same rate. Taxing and regulating marijuana is an important step towards reducing the harm that current policies cause to people of color, particularly Black people, and it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that can be reinvested in our communities,” Hall said.